Mars shines at its biggest and brightest for 17 years as it enters opposition

If you look up tonight into the north-eastern sky, you'll find Mars at its biggest and brightest in 17 years.

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The red planet forms a straight line with the Sun and Earth this week, giving astronomy buffs a much closer look. Source: 1 NEWS

That's because the red planet is in opposition this week, meaning it forms a straight line with the sun and Earth, giving astronomy buffs a much closer look.

Right now, it's the brightest celestial body in the night sky. 

At Auckland's Stardome Observatory, sky watchers are capturing intricate details of the planet.

Even the ice cap on its southern pole can be seen.

Opposition occurs every 26 months but this is the closest Mars has been to Earth since 2003. 

"This year it's about 62 million kilometres away from Earth. In 2012 it was about 100 million kilometres away from Earth," Stardome educator Pooja Sundar told 1 NEWS.

"So you know space-terms, it's quite close."

Its current proximity provides an opportunity for probe launches. In July, the US, China and the UAE all sent missions to Mars. 

"NASA has found water on Mars. We think there may be life on Mars. It's the next step really for us here on Earth to head to," Sundar says.

For now, this is as close as most of us will get to Mars, and it won't happen again for another 15 years.