Mars is "at opposition" when it lines up with Earth on the same side of the Sun. The last opposition was observed in 2007.
During opposition, the distance between planets is minimal. This year, the distance will be only 99 million kilometers or 0.66 astronomical units (distance between the Sun and Earth). Sometimes, Mars and Earth come much closer to each other, forming the distance of 60 million kilometers. Such positioning, called favorable opposition, happens once in 15-17 years. The next favorable opposition is expected in 2018.
In 2003, Mars was at the most favorable opposition, when the distance between Mars and Earth was 55.7 million kilometers.
Difference in distances is explained with the fact that the orbits of Mars and Earth are not circles. The orbit of Mars is significantly extended. It takes Mars approximately two years to make a full rotation around the Sun.
The closer is Mars to Earth, the better we can see it. Now Mars can be observed for 14 hours. In the evenings, it can be seen in the East, at nights – in the South, and in the mornings – in the West. Mars was the brightest on January 29.
The opposition of 2010 is not expected to bring any particular discoveries. However, during previous oppositions scientists were able to discover new things. In the 19th century, opposition brought the discovery of Mars’s satellites, Phobos and Deimos. The famous astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli saw the channels the modern astrologists failed to see.
Meanwhile, American rover Spirit remains stuck on Mars, and the Americans stopped the attempts to free it. On Earth, a duplicate rover was placed in the analog of Mars soil which was supposed to help the scientists, but the attempt has failed. Now NASA has made a decision to leave the rover alone. Spirit will still serve the scientists by studying the surrounding area, taking pictures and sampling the soil.
The rover has been serving on Mars for over five years. Prior to getting stuck in the sinking soil, the rover had been exploring the area around Gusev crater which proved to be extremely interesting. Spirit took pictures of bizarre object resembling handmade items and remnants. Among these items was a figurine with a hand reaching out, a stone with a bas-relief of a Maya Indian, several sculptured heads with humanoid features, bones, plates, boards, etc.
Many seekers of Mars mysticism who found all these artifacts on the official NASA photos think that it is too much for a relatively small area. The discovered items remind remnants of tombstones, and it very well may be that Spirit got itself into a village cemetery.