Astronomy Essentials

Mars in 2024: Back in the morning sky

Dots and arrows for Venus and Mars and Venus in mid February.
In the middle of February, Mars will move close to brilliant Venus. They’ll be an interesting contrast in brightness, with Venus shining at magnitude -3.9 and Mars shining at +1.3. So Venus is roughly 100 times brighter than Mars. They will be at their closest on February 21 and 22, 2024. Then Venus will continue to descend closer to the sunrise each day, while Mars climbs out of the morning twilight. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.
  • Mars can appear bright or faint in our sky. 2024 is mostly a faint year. Around February, Mars becomes visible in the east before dawn. It’s faint and far across the solar system from Earth.
  • As the days pass, Mars will be climbing higher in the predawn sky, growing steadily brighter. Earth will be gaining on Mars, in our smaller, faster orbit around the sun.
  • Around the September equinox, Mars will start becoming noticeable in our skies! By the year’s end, it’ll shine brightly at -1.2 magnitude. Its next opposition will come in January 2025.

Mars in 2024

Opposition for Mars last fell on December 8, 2022. That’s when our planet Earth last flew between Mars and the sun. It’ll reach opposition again in January 2025. Now, in February 2024, Mars will be ascending in the morning sky. In fact, Mars will be visible in the morning sky all year.
How to see Mars in the sky: In early February 2024, Mars will be low in the eastern morning sky and challenging to spot in the bright twilight. However, it’ll become easier to spot by month’s end. It’ll be shining at magnitude +1.3.
Constellations in February 2024: Mars, it would be crossing in front of the constellation Sagittarius and move in front of the constellation Capricornus the Sea-goat.
Note: Mars reaches opposition about every 26 months, or about every two Earth-years. So Mars alternates between appearing bright and faint in our sky. It was bright in late 2022 and early 2023. But by September 2023, Mars faded dramatically in brightness and disappeared in the sunset glare in October 2023. It passed behind the sun on November 18. It came back into view, in the east before sunrise, at the end of 2023 shining around magnitude +1.4.

Finder charts for February mornings

What dot for Mars passing a starlike dot for Venus in February.
Bright Venus pairs up with a much dimmer Mars from February 17-25, 2024. Mars is rising higher each morning as it passes brighter Venus. They are closest to each other on February 21 and 22. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.
Red dot for Mars passing white starlike dot for Venus in binoculars.
To get a better view of Venus and Mars, use binoculars. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.
Dots and arrows for Mars and Venus in late February.
By the end of February, Venus will slowly be approaching the horizon before disappearing from the morning sky in March. And Mars will be climbing higher each day away from brilliant Venus. Mars remains a morning object through all of 2024. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

Sometimes, Mars is faint

Mars was an inconspicuous faint red dot in the sky throughout the early months of 2022. It started becoming brighter in the final months of 2022 and reached opposition on December 8, 2022. It remained bright through early 2023, then started to rapidly fade through the end of the year. Mars reached superior conjunction on November 18, 2023. Now in 2024, it will remain faint until the last few months of the year.

Mars shown at different sizes for closest and farthest opposition and at solar conjunction.
The geometry of Mars’ orbit is such that it spends much longer periods of time at large distances from the Earth than it does close to us, which provides added incentive to observe it in the weeks around opposition. When it passes opposition, every 2 years, Mars appears large and bright for only a few weeks. Here’s a comparison of the apparent size of Mars when seen at its closest opposition, around its opposition in 2025, and at its most farthest opposition. Also shown is how Mars appears when it’s most distant from the Earth at solar conjunction. Image via Dominic Ford/ Used with permission.

Sometimes, Mars is bright

Mars steadily brightened in the first half of 2022, first as a morning object. But later, during the second half of 2022, Mars shone as a bright red ruby in the evening sky. Ultimately, it reached opposition – when Earth flew between Mars and the sun – on December 8, 2022.

Indeed, Mars’ dramatic swings in brightness (and its red color) are why the early stargazers named Mars for their God of War.

Sometimes the war god rests. And sometimes he grows fierce! In fact, these changes are part of the reason Mars is so fascinating to watch in the night sky.

Circles for Mars in 2024 showing it growing in size during the year.
As Mars races towards its next opposition in January 2025, it’ll grow in apparent size and increase in brightness. Chart via Guy Ottewell’s 2024 Astronomical Calendar. Used with permission.

Want to follow Mars? Bookmark EarthSky’s monthly night sky guide.

Mars isn’t very big

To understand why Mars varies so much in brightness in Earth’s sky, first realize that Mars isn’t a very big world. Indeed, it’s only 4,219 miles (6,790 km) in diameter, making it only slightly more than half Earth’s size (7,922 miles or 12,750 km in diameter).

On the other hand, consider Mars in contrast to Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. Jupiter is 86,881 miles (140,000 km) in diameter. As an illustration, more than 20 planets the size of Mars could be lined up side by side in front of Jupiter. Basically, Jupiter always looks bright, because it’s so big.

Not so for little Mars, however. Rather, its extremes in brightness have to do with its nearness (or lack of nearness) to Earth.

Space photos of Earth and Mars side by side, on black background, with Earth much bigger.
Mars isn’t very big, so its brightness – when it is bright – isn’t due to its bigness, as is true of Jupiter. Mars’ brightness, or lack of brightness, is all about how close we are to the Red Planet. It’s all about where Earth and Mars are, relative to each other, in their respective orbits around the sun. Image via NASA.

Future Martian oppositions

So, when is the next opposition of Mars? The next time Mars will appear at its brightest for that two-year period in our sky? You guessed it. In January 2025! Check out the chart on this page that lists all oppositions of Mars from 1995 to 2037.

Earth's and Mars' orbits with Mars in different sizes at different points around its orbit.
There’s a 15-year cycle of Mars, whereby the Red Planet is brighter and fainter at opposition. In July 2018, we were at the peak of the 2-year cycle – and the peak of the 15-year cycle – and Mars was very, very bright! In 2020, we were also at the peak of the 2-year cycle; however, Earth and Mars were farther apart at Mars’ opposition than they were in 2018. Still, 2020’s opposition of Mars was excellent. So, in December 2022, Mars had a good opposition but appeared smaller and dimmer than in 2020, since we were farther away from it. And the January 2025 opposition will find Mars smaller and dimmer than Mars was in 2022. Diagram by Roy L. Bishop. Copyright Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Used with permission. Visit the RASC eStore to purchase the Observer’s Handbook, a necessary tool for all skywatchers.
Starry sky with Orion, Taurus, Mars, Pleiades over rocky horizon.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Miguel Ventura in Fafe, Portugal, captured this image on August 28, 2022, and wrote: “Every now and then and in addition to its natural beauty, the night sky and the whims of the universe offer us moments like this. With some planning and luck in the mix (truce from the clouds) I was able to photograph this magnificent alignment. We can see the Pleiades and the constellation of Taurus with the planet Mars between these 2 … below near the horizon the imposing constellation of Orion appears, announcing the autumn sky.” Thank you, Miguel!

Seeing red

Mars appears as a reddish light in the sky and, therefore, is often called the Red Planet. Other obvious red dots in the sky are reddish-orange Aldebaran and the famous red supergiant Betelgeuse. So, it is fun to compare Mars’ color and intensity of red with that of Aldebaran or Betelgeuse.

And then there is red Antares. Antares is Greek for rival of Ares, meaning rival of Mars. Antares is sometimes said to be the anti-Mars due to its competing red color. For a few months every couple of years Mars is much brighter than Antares. Also, every couple of years Mars passes near Antares, as if taunting the star. Mars moves rapidly through the heavens and Antares is fixed to the starry firmament.

What makes them red?

Surface temperature is what determines the colors of the stars. The hottest stars are blue and the coolest stars are red. In fact, from hottest to coolest, the colors of stars range from blue, white, yellow, orange and red. And while the colors of stars might be hard to detect, some stars – like Aldebaran, Antares and Betelgeuse – are noticeably colorful.

On the other hand, Mars appears red for a different reason. It’s red because of iron oxide in the dust that covers this desert world. Iron oxide gives rust and blood its red color. Rovers on Mars sampled the Martian dust and determined it contains three colors: reds, browns and oranges. So those three colors are what you may see when you gaze upon Mars.

Do you see red when you look at Mars, Aldebaran, Antares and Betelgeuse? Are they the same color? Do you see any other colors of stars?

Orange ball with well-defined dark marks and white spot at the north pole.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Nancy Ricigliano captured Mars from Long Island, New York, on October 6, 2020, when it was closest to Earth. Thank you, Nancy. See more photos of Mars at its closest in 2020.

Bottom line: Mars is back in our morning sky. In fact, it’s be visible in the morning sky for all of 2024 and it’ll reach opposition in January 2025.

Moon and Mars! Fav photos of December 7 occultation

Photos of bright Mars in 2018, from the EarthSky community

Photos of bright Mars in 2020, from the EarthSky community

February 17, 2024
Astronomy Essentials

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Deborah Byrd

View All