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Approaching opposition, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a new image, featuring bright wispy clouds over the rugged surface of Mars.
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Hubble delivers beautiful new close-up of Mars

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Thursday, May 19, 2016, 4:48 PM - We're only days away from Mars opposition, and the Hubble Space Telescope is treating us to an amazing close-up view of the Red Planet!

On May 22, the Sun, Earth and Mars will form up in a special alignment that only happens once every two years or so.

All three objects line up, with Earth and Mars on the same side of the Sun, and the Sun and Mars on exact opposite sides of the Earth, in an arrangement known as opposition.

The Sun, Earth and Mars lined up at Mars Opposition. Credit: NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

At this point, Mars is visible all night long, from sun-set to sun-rise, but it is not quite at its biggest and brightest yet.

That doesn't happen until May 30, when the orbits of Earth and Mars bring them to their closest point for this year.

The view of Mars from Earth through 2016, leading up to the May 30 closest approach and then receding for the remainder of the year. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With so many backyard astronomers looking forward to these events, scientists trained our most powerful space telescope - the Hubble Space Telescope - at the Red Planet and took this picture:

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

According to NASA:

Bright, frosty polar caps, and clouds above a vivid, rust-colored landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic seasonal planet in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope view taken on May 12, 2016, when Mars was 50 million miles (80 million km) from Earth. The Hubble image reveals details as small as 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 km) across.

To help us pick out these details, NASA also released this annotated version of the image:

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

According to SpaceTelescope.org, the ESA's website for the Hubble Space Telescope:

Hubble observed Mars using its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The final image shows a sharp, natural-colour view of Mars and reveals several prominent geological features, from smaller mountains and erosion channels to immense canyons and volcanoes.
The large, dark region to the far right is Syrtis Major Planitia, one of the first features identified on the surface of the planet by seventeenth century observers. Syrtis Major is an ancient, inactive shield volcano. Late-afternoon clouds surround its summit in this view. The oval feature south of Syrtis Major is the bright Hellas Planitia basin, the largest crater on Mars. About 1,800 kilometres across and eight kilometres deep, it was formed about 3.5 billion years ago by an asteroid impact.
The orange area in the centre of the image is Arabia Terra, a vast upland region. The landscape is densely cratered and heavily eroded, indicating that it could be among the oldest features on the planet.
South of Arabia Terra, running east to west along the equator, are the long dark features known as Sinus Sabaeous (to the east) and Sinus Meridiani (to the west). These darker regions are covered by bedrock from ancient lava flows and other volcanic features.
An extended blanket of clouds can be seen over the southern polar cap. The icy northern polar cap has receded to a comparatively small size because it is now late summer in the northern hemisphere.

Mars won't be this close or bright until sometime in June of 2018, so if you have clear skies, be sure to check it out for yourself.

Sources: NASA | ESA

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