At Close Range!
Get your telescopes ready -- Mars is making it's closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. Scientists believe that this won't happen again for another 284 years - the next possible chance for Mars to come this close is in the year 2287. |
For the next several weeks, Mars will join Venus and the Moon as one of the brightest celestial objects in the night sky. With the naked eye, you'll be able to see it shining brightly, but if you want to get up-close-and-personal with this stellar body, you'll want a little assistance. Most sources seem to agree that a decent amateur telescope should make seeing major surface regions, including the polar ice caps, manageable.
And, if you're wondering when the red planet will make its peak performance, experts from NASA report Mars will be closest at 5:51 a.m. Aug. 27, when it will be 34,646,418 miles from Earth.
Mars has fascinated us for years. From the time astronomers first turned their telescopes on the planet, we have imagined life there. Science fiction writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells have written about life on and invaders from Mars. We have sent robots to orbit the planet, land on its surface, and sample the rocks and soil. What have we learned about the planet Mars? Was it once like Earth? Is there or was there water on Mars? Is there or was there life on Mars?
In this article, we will examine the fascinating world of the red planet. We will look at the major geologic features of the planet, the climate, how the planet was formed, what may have happened to it and is there or was there water and/or life on Mars.
Photo courtesy NASA
Viking 1 orbiter view of Mars, with the canyon Valles Marineris in the center