On July 27, the heavens will grace us with two rare astronomical events: not only will we see the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st Century, but also Mars will reach opposition with the Sun, followed four days later by the Red Planet’s closest approach to Earth since 2003.
This eclipse, referred to as a "blood moon", due to the red color that the Moon becomes during its passage through Earth’s shadow, is expected to last nearly 4 hours, with its totality lasting for 1 hour and 43 minutes — the longest duration forecast for the 21st century. Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse can be seen wherever the Moon is visible in the sky while the eclipse is underway; however, as the eclipse will peak at 20:21 GMT (4:21 PM EDT, or 1:21 PM PDT) it will be daylight in North America, but western skywatchers will be able to view the event via broadcasts from Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
Less than forty minutes later, Mars will reach what is called "perihelic opposition", or its closest point to the sun in its 1.88-year orbit. Four days later, on July 31, Mars will also be at its closest point to Earth, and at only 35.8 million miles (57.6 million km) away it will appear nearly ten times brighter than usual, at magnitude -2.8, and isn’t expected to come this close to us again until September of 2035. The Red Planet may also appear to be somewhat paler than usual, as a planet-wide dust storm is currently underway.
In their 1977 book "Challenge to Science: The UFO Enigma", ufologists Jacques and Janine Vallee outlined a correlation between Mars oppositions and an increase in UFO activity, with their graphs showing sharp increases in UFO activity as Mars and Earth closed the gap between the planets: remember to watch the skies, you never know what you might see!
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