Red Planet comes closer to Earth than since 2003 and Neanderthal Age

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Mars Close Approach takes place about every 26 months, but since Earth and Mars don't have perfectly circular orbits, the shortest distance between the planets isn't always the same for each close approach.

It will pass within 35.8 million miles from Earth.

"Mars wouldn't be almost this dusty if it wasn't for this one enormous deposit that is gradually eroding over time and polluting the planet, essentially", said study co-author Kevin Lewis from Johns Hopkins University.

Mars and Earth line up just 57.6 million km apart at the end of July, equaling the proximity records set in 2003 and some 60,000 years before.

Mars is already brighter than usual and will shine even more- and appear bigger - as Tuesday approaches.

Also on Friday, NASA plans to release what scientists say will be stunning new images of Mars taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. The Sun ejects protons at speeds up to two million miles per hour (more than 3 million kilometers per hour) in an erratic flow called the solar wind. NASA notes that much has been made of the observation that the Neanderthals were the last before the 2003 approach to see Mars so favorably placed. First, a solar wind proton approaches Mars at high speed and encounters a cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet.

"The answer was thievery", said Justin Deighan, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, lead author of a paper on this research appearing July 23 in Nature Astronomy.

A massive dust storm is presently engulfing Mars, obscuring surface details normally visible through telescopes.

'Not quite as bright as Venus, but still because of the reddish, orange-ish-red colour, you really can't miss it in the sky'. The planets aren't expected to be that close again until 2287, according to NASA. Mars Close Approach is exactly what it seems: the point in Mars' orbit around the sun when it comes closest to Earth.

This summer, opposition occurs July 27, or overnight Thursday into early Friday morning.

The next close approach will occur in 2020 when the Red Planet will be within 38.6 million miles.

The total lunar eclipse on Friday will be visible in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.