Earth to Mars distance
Distance Kilometers Miles AU Light Minutes
Average Distance 253.6 million 157.6 million 1.7 14.1
Current Distance
(May 2016)
87 million 54 million 0.57 4.8
Maximum Distance 401.3 million 249.36 million 2.68 22.3
Minimum Distance 55.7 million 34.6 million 0.37 3.1


Distance from Earth to Mars/planets
Average Distance from Earth to kilometers and miles
Moon 384403 km (239,200 mi)
Sun 149.6 million km (93 million mi)
Mercury 155 million km (96 million mi)
Venus 170 million km (106 million mi)
Mars 254 million km (158 million mi)
Jupiter 787 million km (489 million mi)
Saturn 1.43 billion km (890 million mi)
Uranus 2.88 billion km (1.79 billion mi)
Nuptune 4.5 billion km (2.79 billion mi)
Pluto 6.09 billion km (3.78 billion mi)


Mars facts

Mars is the fourth planet in the order of distance from the sun, and the next outside the earth. To the naked eye it appears as a bright star of a decidedly reddish or lurid tint, which contrasts strongly with the whiteness of Venus and Jupiter. At opposition it is brighter than a first magnitude star, sometimes outshining even Sirius. It is by virtue of its position the most favourably situated of all the planets for observation from the earth. The eccentricity of its orbit, 0.0933, is greater than that of any other major planet except Mercury. The result is that at an opposition near perihelion Mars is markedly nearer to the earth than at an opposition near aphelion, the one distance being about 35 million miles; the other 63 million. These numbers express only the minimum distances at or near opposition, and not the distance at other times. The time of revolution of Mars is 686.98 days. The mean interval between oppositions is 2 years 49½ days, but, owing to the eccentricity of the orbit, the actual excess over two years ranges from 36 days to more than 2 months. Its period of rotation is 24h. 37m. 22.66s.


Mars facts

The accompanying diagram will convey a notion of the varied aspects presented by the planet, of the cycles of change through which they go, and of the order in which the oppositions follow each other. The outer circle represents the orbit of Mars, the inner one that of the earth. AE is the line of the equinoxes from which longitudes are counted. The perihelion of Mars is in longitude 335° at the point π. The ascending node Ω is in longitude 47°. The line of nodes makes an angle of 74° with the major axis, so that Mars is south of the ecliptic near perihelion, but north of it near aphelion. Around the inner circle, representing the earth's orbit, are marked the months during which the earth passes through the different parts of the orbit. It will be seen that the distance of Mars at the time of any opposition depends upon the month in which opposition occurs. The least possible distance would occur in an opposition about the end of August, a little before Mars reached the perihelion, because the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit throws our planet a little farther from the sun and nearer the orbit of Mars in July than it does in August. The opposition of 1909 occurred on the 24th of September, at a point marked by the year near the equinox, and the month and years of the oppositions following, up to 1941, are also shown in the same way. Tracing them around, it will be seen that the points of opposition travel around the orbit in about 16 years, so that oppositions near perihelion, when Mars is therefore nearest the earth, occur at intervals of 15 or 17 years.

Mars facts

The axis of rotation of the planet is inclined between 23° and 24° to the orbit, and the equator of the planet has the same inclination to the plane of the orbit. The north pole is directed toward a point in longitude 355°, in consequence of which the projection of the planet's axis upon the plane of the ecliptic is nearly parallel to the line of our equinoxes. This projection is shown by the dotted line SP—NP, which corresponds closely to the line of the Martian solstices. It will be seen that at a September opposition the north pole of the planet is turned away from the sun, so that only the southern hemisphere is presented to us, and only the south pole can be seen from the earth. The Martian vernal equinox is near Q and the northern solstice near A. Here at the point S.P. the northern hemisphere is turned toward the sun. It will be seen that the aspect of the planet at opposition, especially the hemisphere which is visible, varies with the month of opposition, the general rule being that the northern hemisphere of the planet is entirely seen only near aphelion oppositions, and therefore when farthest from us, while the southern hemisphere is best seen near perihelion oppositions. The distances of the planet from the sun at aphelion and at perihelion are nearly in the ratio 6:5. The intensity of the sun’s radiation on the planet is as the inverse square of this ratio. It is therefore more than 40% greater near perihelion than near aphelion. It follows from all this that the southern hemisphere is subjected to a more intense solar heat than the northern, and must therefore have a warmer summer season. But the length of the seasons is the inverse of this, the summer of the northern hemisphere being longer and the heat of the southern hemisphere shorter in proportion.
Mars facts

The surface features of the planet will be better understood by first considering what is known of its atmosphere and of the temperature which probably prevails on its surface. One method of detecting an atmosphere is through its absorption of the different rays in the spectrum of the sunlight reflected from the planet. Several observers have thought that they saw fairly distinct evidence of such absorption when the planet was examined with the spectroscope. But the observations were not conclusive; and with the view of setting the question at rest if possible, W. W. Campbell at the Lick Observatory instituted a very careful series of spectroscopic observations[1]. To reduce the chances of error to a minimum the spectrum of Mars was compared with that of the moon when the two bodies were near each other. Not the slightest difference could be seen between any of the lines in the two spectra. It being certain that the spectrum of the moon is not affected by absorption, it followed that any absorption produced by the atmosphere of Mars is below the limit of perception. It was considered by Campbell that if the atmosphere of Mars were ¼ that of the earth in density, the absorption would have been visible. Consequently the atmosphere of Mars would be of a density less than ¼ that of the earth

Mars facts

Closely related to the question of an atmosphere is that of possible clouds above the surface of the planet, the existence of which, if real, would necessarily imply an atmosphere of a density approaching the limit set by Campbell's observations. The most favourable opportunity for seeing clouds would be when they are formed above a region of the planet upon which the sun is about to rise, or from which it has just been setting. The cloud will then be illuminated by the sun’s rays while the surface below it is in darkness, and will appear to an observer on the earth as a spot of light outside the terminator, or visible edge of the illuminated part of the disk. It is noticeable that phenomena more or less of this character, though by no means common, have been noted by observers on several occasions. Among these have been the Mt Hamilton and Lowell observers, and W. H. Pickering at Arequipa. Campbell has shown that many of them may be accounted for by supposing the presence of mountains not more than two miles in height, which may well exist on the planet. While this hypothesis will serve to explain several of these appearances, this can scarcely be said of a detached spot observed on the evening of the 26th of May 1903, at the Lowell Observatory[3]. Dr Slipher, who first saw it, was so struck by the appearance of the projection from the terminator upon the dark side of the disk that he called the other observers to witness it. Micrometric measures showed that it was some 300 miles in length, and that its highest point stood some 17 miles above the surface of the planet. That a cloud should be formed at such a height in so rare an atmosphere seems difficult to account for except on the principle that the rate of diminution of the density of an atmosphere with its height is proportional to the intensity of gravity, which is smaller on Mars than on the earth. The colour was not white, but tawny, of the tint exhibited by a cloud of dust. Percival Lowell therefore suggests that this and other appearances of the same kind seen from time to time are probably dust clouds, travelling over the desert, as they sometimes do on the earth, and settling slowly again to the ground.
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