What makes a planet look bright? It’s complicated.

The planets are a dynamic bunch, and throughout the year as seen from Earth, these celestial bodies appear not only to move across the sky but also to brighten and fade in turn.

A planet’s distance from Earth is probably the most significant factor governing its apparent brightness. Last October, for instance, Mars shone brighter than Jupiter, thanks in large part because the Red Planet was as close to Earth as it will be until 2035. In contrast, Mars is now sinking into the western sunset sky, falling deeper into the brightening twilight glow, as Earth and Mars are practically on opposite sides of the sun.

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