A planet (or asteroid or comet) is said to be "in opposition" when it is in opposition to the Sun. Because most orbits in the Solar System are nearly coplanar, this occurs when the Sun, Earth, and the body are approximately in a straight line, that is, Earth and the body are in the same direction as seen from the Sun. The instant of opposition is defined as that when the apparent geocentric celestial longitude of the body differs by 180° from the apparent geocentric longitude of the Sun. At that time, a body is
- visible almost all night, rising around sunset, culminating around midnight and setting around sunrise
- at the point in its orbit where it is roughly closest to Earth, making it appear bigger and brighter
- in apparent retrograde motion
- nearly completely illuminated; we see a "full planet", analogous to a full moon
- at the place where the opposition effect increases the reflected light from bodies with unobscured rough surfaces
Opposition occurs only in superior planets (see the diagram).
The astronomical symbol for opposition is ☍ (U+260D). Handwritten:
As seen from a planet that is superior, an inferior planet on the opposite side of the Sun is in superior conjunction with the Sun. An inferior conjunction occurs when the two planets lie in a line on the same side of the Sun. At inferior conjunction, the superior planet is "in opposition" to the Sun as seen from the inferior planet (see the diagram).
- U.S. Naval Observatory Nautical Almanac Office (1992). P. Kenneth Seidelmann, ed. Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac. University Science Books, Mill Valley, CA. p. 733. ISBN 0-935702-68-7.
- Newcomb, Simon; Holden, Edward S. (1890). Astronomy. pp. 115, 273., at Google books
- Moulton, Forest Ray (1918). An Introduction to Astronomy. pp. 255, 256., at Google books
- Newcomb and Holden (1890), p. 115
- Newcomb and Holden (1890), p. 334
- see references at opposition surge.
- Moulton (1918), p. 191