Mars closest approach
Mars will be within 57 million miles (92 million kilometers) of Earth, its closest approach since 2008Nasa

Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in six years tonight (Monday), ahead of a total lunar eclipse, in one of the most significant nights for stargazers.

The Red Planet will be within 57 million miles (92 million km) from Earth - the closest it has come since 2008.

Following the opposition of Mars last week, when the planet and the sun were on directly opposite sides of Earth, the planet will be visible in the southeastern night sky. It will shine throughout Monday evening as a prelude to the first eclipse of 2014.

The Slooh community telescope will provide a live stream of the celestial event:

In 2003, the Mars approach brought the Red Planet within 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km) of Earth - the closest in 56,000 years. This was the most spectacular approach in our time, as the minimum distance from the Earth to Mars is about 54.6 million km.

With the help of the Slooh telescope, viewers will see Mars appear as a reddish-orange star above the moon by about 9 degrees during the eclipse. It will contrast sharply with the bright blue star Spica in the constellation Virgo, which will be just below the moon and to its right.

Mars' relative proximity will make it shine at magnitude -1.5, around the same brightness as the most brilliant star visible this season, Sirius (the Dog Star).

Surface features will be visible though backgarden telescopes.

One feature to look out for is the north polar cap. The caps glow bright white but are slightly hidden from view because the planet's northern hemisphere is tilted at 23 degrees towards Earth.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is around half the size of Earth. The planet's red colour is caused by oxidised iron on its surface.

Some of the planet's mountains are three times higher than Everest and its features canyons five times longer than the Grand Canyon. Mars is covered with fine dust, often whipped up into 180mph dust storms by intense winds.

Nasa revealed recently its plans to launch missions to Mars in the 2030s. The agency told Slash Gear: "As Nasa sets it sights on getting to Mars, it's creating new opportunities for the nation. And as we pull together as a nation to create these new opportunities, we'll do amazing things to expand the human presence farther into the solar system."