Mars will shine brighter than it has in 15 years this summer

(RNN) – The red planet’s getting bigger and brighter this July.

That’s because Mars and Earth will come nearest to each other in their orbits around the sun, an event called a “Close Approach,” according to NASA.

Since the planets travel on elliptical orbits, their relative distances vary throughout the year.

The gravitational pull of other planets also influences the orbital paths of Earth and Mars – Jupiter “especially influences the orbit of Mars,” according to NASA.

Mars will be closer to Earth than it’s been in 15 years on Tuesday, July 31, at a distance of 35.8 million miles from us.

It came within 34.6 million miles during its Close Approach in 2003. That was the closest it had come to Earth in 60,000 years.

Mars will shine brightest between July 27 and July 30, according to NASA.

We don’t often get such a great view of the planet. NASA said Mars comes close enough for “exceptional viewing” once or twice every 15 or 17 years.

So, be sure to spot our cosmic neighbor as it swings by – but don’t get suckered by an online hoax saying Mars will look as big as the moon; NASA said that scientifically impossible tidbit spreads online whenever Mars gets close.

The next Close Approach will be Oct. 6, 2020, when Mars will be 38.6 million miles from Earth.