It might be easy to think of the planet Mars as being right next to Earth, especially given its order in the solar system. How far away is Mars exactly, then?
Technically, Mars is actually situated pretty far away from Earth, with the distance sometimes changing. You can take a look at the distance between Mars and Earth below.
How Far Is Mars? And How Long To Travel There? Short Summary
On average, Mars is approximately 140 million miles away from Earth. Due to the shifts and revolutions that take place, the distance can keep changing, with Mars sometimes getting closer and sometimes farther.
The closest distance between the two is around 33.9 million miles, with the farthest distance being around 250 million miles.
Typically, it can take around nine months to reach the planet from Earth, although this can vary depending on the distance, speed and route.
Take a look at how far away Mars is and how long it takes to get there.
It is not possible for Earth and Mars to ever be at a consistently similar distance from each other. This is because both planets tend to make their revolutions around the Sun. The speed at which each of them travels around the Sun also tends to differ a bit, making it relatively rare for the planets to line up parallel to each other.
It is also important to note that both planets tend to move around the Sun in elliptical orbits. This makes their movement around the Sun an imperfect circular path, with Mars following a slightly more oval pattern in comparison to that of Earth.
Because of these differences, there are times when Mars can be close to Earth, with the two aligned in their own orbits for a brief period of time. This places them nearly parallel to each other for a short while until one of them “takes over” and moves ahead of the other.
At other times, Mars can keep moving farther and farther away from Earth, reaching a point when it is hundreds of miles away from it. This is usually when the two planets are on different sides of the Sun, making it seem like they are in a single line but at different points.
There are several other factors involved when it comes to determining how far away Mars can be from Earth. Let’s take a look at some of them below.
One of the most important factors here is the distance of each planet from the Sun. Earth is situated much closer to the Sun as compared to the planet of Mars, giving it a shorter distance to cover. On the other hand, since Mars has to travel a long distance to complete a single orbit, it can take some time to align with Earth.
Additionally, since the orbit of Mars is slightly more elliptical than Earth’s, the alignment can take time.
These can then affect another factor, which is the orbital period that each planet takes. While Earth takes a year or 365 days to complete an orbit around the Sun, Mars tends to take almost double the time to complete an orbit. It takes approximately 687 days to carry this out, which is around 1.9 years on Earth.
Mars makes a close approach to Earth when it is at a relatively close distance from it. This phenomenon is also called opposition since Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of Earth, with Earth being between these two bodies at this point in its own orbit.
This is also when Mars is at its nearest distance from the Sun. This is called its perihelion. On the other hand, Earth is at its farthest distance from the Sun, with this position referred to as the aphelion.
This kind of opposition tends to take place every 26 months or so.
Distance At Closest Approach
At this kind of distance, Mars and Earth can come as close as 33.9 million miles between each other. It is crucial to note that this kind of close distance has never been measured between the two planets, making this a theoretical occurrence.
The two planets have, however, managed to come pretty close, with the minimum distance measured between them being 34.8 million miles. This was in the year 2003.
This was the closest distance between them in 60,000 years and is unlikely to occur any time soon, with estimations saying that this might occur towards the end of the 23rd century.
During this kind of closest approach, you can expect to view Mars in the sky with the naked eye. There are some days when it might be brighter as compared to the others, with it fading out as it continues in its own orbit and moves farther away from Earth.
The farthest approach between Mars and Earth is defined by a phenomenon called solar conjunction. This is when the Sun lies directly between Earth and Mars, placing them on opposite sides of the Sun and from each other, thus widening the gap between them significantly.
This can place the two planets at a distance of nearly 250 million miles (or over 400 million kilometers) from each other. This is also when it becomes impossible for all spacecraft on Mars sent from Earth to maintain their communication levels, resulting in a near-complete block-out.
This tends to go on for around a couple of weeks (measured based on the communication gap on Earth), following which the planets move further ahead and reduce the distance between them, with the Sun no longer blocking the two.
This is also when the two planets are completely invisible from each other. You certainly will not be able to view the planet of Mars from Earth’s sky during this time, although this is also true soon after the opposition period ends.
This kind of conjunction last took place in October 2021, with the absence of communication from the spacecraft lasting from October 2 to October 14. This was when the distance between Earth and Mars was around 240 million miles.
The next time this is likely to occur is in November 2023 and then again in January 2026. This conjunction, as you can see, also takes around two years to occur following each previous one.
The average distance between Mars and Earth tends to be around 140 million miles, which is around 225 million kilometers. Apart from the oppositions and conjunctions that take place and reduce or widen this gap, you can expect Mars to be at this kind of average distance from the planet of Earth.
You should note here that this is not an absolute distance, but only the average. This means that the distance between the two planets is bound to keep changing and shifting as time passes by, but when calculated together, this is the figure that you can anticipate.
With shifting positions in their own orbits around the Sun, the distance can keep reducing or increasing until it reaches an extreme.
At this kind of average distance, can you still see the planet from Earth’s sky? It is unlikely for you to view and identify it as easily as you can at a close approach, but there are times you might be able to see it faintly. A telescope might make things slightly clearer.
How Long Would It Take To Travel To Mars?
It would take approximately nine months to travel to Mars in a spacecraft. Of course, this is not a definite figure, considering that it can depend on a range of factors, such as the following.
The speed of the spacecraft can matter when it comes to how long it takes to travel to Mars. Based on how much fuel is available and used, it can take anywhere between four and nine months to complete a one-way journey, sometimes even up to a year.
The route that a certain spacecraft takes can also make a difference. How to orbit around the Sun and which route would be safe and quick enough to help the spacecraft make the journey are some additional important considerations here.
With more advanced and efficient technology, it can become possible to decrease the time taken to travel to Mars.
The technology involved in propulsion still needs to advance further along with the ways in which the spacecraft can burn and use fuel and energy. Technology using robotics and a photon-based system would shorten the time to mere days.
The distance between the planets keep shifting, so if Mars happens to be in conjunction or further away from Earth, it might take way longer to make the journey, which is why scientists usually prefer launching spacecraft when Mars is located much closer to Earth.
Light can travel in vacuum at a speed of 186,282 miles per second. Based on the speed of light, this is how long it would take for light to travel between Earth and Mars.
- Opposition: When Mars is at its closest approach to Earth, the speed of light between the two can be around 182 seconds, which is a little over three minutes.
- Fastest Record: The fastest recorded speed of light between Earth and Mars has been 187 seconds. This is about 3.11 minutes.
- Conjunction: When Mars and Earth are at their farthest distance from each other, the speed of light can be around 1,350 seconds, which is around 22 minutes.
- Average: On average (with a distance of 140 million miles between the two planets), the speed of light is around 750 seconds, which is around 12 minutes.
It can take anywhere between 4 and 12 months for a spacecraft to make its way to Mars from Earth, resulting in an average of around 9 months. This can be anywhere between 120 and 365 days.
There have been several spacecraft that have successfully landed on Mars, each taking a different period of time to make its way there. For instance, the Mariner 7 of 1969 took 128 days while the Viking 1 (which landed on Mars) took 304 days.
The longest time taken by a spacecraft has been Viking 2, which took 333 days, followed by the 2013 Mars Orbiter Mission, which took 322 days.
Spacecrafts from other countries have also managed to make landings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Have Any Astronauts Been To Mars?
Several spacecraft have been to Mars to record data, but no astronauts have traveled there so far. This is mainly because of the distance between the planets and the need for further technological advancements. Human bodies and minds also need to be studied carefully to establish how they would react and adapt to the conditions on Mars.
In the upcoming decades, however, there might be chances of sending humans on the planet.
Is It Possible To View Mars From Earth?
You can easily view Mars in the sky from where you are as long as there are no obstacles such as buildings, bright lights and cloudy weather around you. However, this is only possible when Mars is at a close approach to Earth.
When Will Mars Be Closest To Earth?
Mars makes its close approach to Earth every 26 months or so. The last time this happened was in October 2020, with the next close approach being December 2022.
Conclusion & Summary
Through this guide, we have now taken you through everything you need to know about how far away Mars is from the Earth and how long it can take to travel there. Based on what we have seen, it is clear the distance between the two planets is hardly ever the same.
As the two continue to orbit around the Sun, the distance between them can keep changing. The closest distance between them can be 34 million miles and the farthest can be 250 million miles.
Based on this, it can take up to nine months to travel to Mars.