Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mars Was Amazing! Last night was THE night!

The Red Planet was spectacular! This month Earth caught up with Mars in an encounter that culminated in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 5332287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can be certain that Mars had not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000,000 years before it happens again and it's suspected this event will happen only once during human history.

The encounter culminated last night when Mars came to within 649,589 miles of Earth. It was the brightest object in the northern hemisphere's night sky. It attained a magnitude of -1.2 and appeared to be 25.11 arc minutes wide. Mars was larger than the full moon to the naked eye and incredibly easy to spot. My daughter was clapping excitedly shouting "Orange mommy! Look at the orange in the sky!" We had decided she could stay up late for this, after all it was her only chance to see Mars so close.

Mars rose at nightfall and reached its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. It was humbling to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. Around 03:14 the rotation allowed us a glimpse of the Twin Towers of Helium, though by that time the rechargable batteries in my digital camera had died. Next camera I'm going back to the disposable batteries! Even so, I was able to get two decent pictures before the camera shut down.

I hope you were able to view this marvel of nature since it's doubful human beings will ever witness it again. By the time another opportunity predicted for Mars to be this close to Earth occurs, the sun will have begun it's expansion into a fat, lazy supernova. By then we won't even be living on Mars, we'll have moved on to less polluted, more temperate star systems.


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