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Watch Mars' triangle sky show on the eve of the rover landing

Andrew Fazekas, astronomer
August 3, 2012 — Skywatchers can step outside this weekend and gaze at Mars with the naked eye after sunset.

Saturn is 1.5 billion km from earth
Saturn is 1.5 billion km from earth

Joining the red planet will be two starlike objects of equal brightness, planet Saturn and Spica - the lead member of the constellation Virgo.

The cosmic trio will form a striking triangle formation in the southwest sky just after sunset all week long. Despite mars being 240 million km from Earth, nearly on the other side of the Sun, the planet shines bright in the night sky.

The contrasting colours of the three objects will be particularly eye-catching. Mars will be orange-hued, Saturn golden-yellow and Spica icy blue.

Their proximity to each other in the sky, however, is an optical illusion. Spica is 240 light years from Earth, while Saturn is 83 light minutes away (1.5 billion km) and Mars, the closest of the three, will take just under 14 light minutes to reach Earth.

It will also take about 14 minutes for radio transmissions from NASA's rover to reach the earth. It's set to land on Mars this Monday -- and ground controllers will be listening for its signal that it survived.

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