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Aug 8, 2004 — The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in 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 before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth 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 it will rise in the east at 10p.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 2:30a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being 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. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

Wirehead says:

Cool post. I fixed the carriage returns that were stuck in there using my MAGIC MODERATOR POWERS.

BiGs112 says:

Thanks :) I only have my magic dumb powers tuned to on and they arent even working! And it figures the first post I dont preview is messed up.

Wirehead says:

Of course. Everyone knows about that. It's a corrollary of Murphy's Third Law: "That which you are looking for will always be in the last possible place you look in".

On-topic, though: out of sheer LUCK, I'll be in Colorado for a weekend this month (great viewing weather up there practically every night). Out of MORE luck, I shipped my telescope up to my dad's place outside Boulder a month or so ago (having ascertained through hard experience over the last four years that it is utterly pointless to own a telescope in Florida). It's a Meade DS-114 refracting telescope with altazimuth mount and an Autostar system. I'm working on cobbling together a cable to make it work with my laptop (the handheld controller only works with serial ports, and my laptop, alas, has none). Anyway, if I can get it working, I'll be able to point and click on a star, planet, or whatever and the telescope will automatically go to it and then track it as well. Even if I can't get the laptop hookup functioning, the handheld Autostar controller can do it through onscreen menus. Of course, the "geek factor" isn't nearly as high.

A couple years ago in Florida, which has terrible seeing even under the "best" conditions because of the humidity in the air, I could see the stripes and the great spot on Jupiter as well as the first 4 moons. Saturn was quite clear as well, as were a few of its moons. The Earth's moon is actually almost painful to look at using this thing because it's so bright.

It's amazing what a relatively cheap amateur level scope gets you thease days (the total system could be duplicated today for around $300, which is less than a really nice pair of binoculars).

Hopefully Mars will show more detail than I've been able to make out in the past. A little flat reddish thing isn't all that spectacular.

BiGs112 says:

Ok and when I think I found something cool... Grr! This was last year. Sorry for my ignorance guys :)

Wirehead says:

I thought last year was the ultraclose encounter with Jupiter. Feh. I'm sure I'll see some interesting stuff anyway.

dcormier says:

Okay, good. I'm not nuts. Well, not completely. I kept thinking, "I swear that happened already..."

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