August 21, 2003: It's Mars Month!Is it a coincidence there've been so many Mars stories lately? Hardly. We can't take credit for this excellent explanation, picked up on the net and sent to us by reader Richard Guy, but we're glad to share it:
"Never again in your lifetime will the Red Planet be so spectacular! This month and next month the Earth is catching up with Mars, an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the last 5,000 years but it may be as long as 60,000 years.
"The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75 power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August, Mars will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.
"By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That's pretty convenient when it comes to seeing something that no human has seen in recorded history. So mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month."
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