Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Presently the planet Mars rises in the east southeast about 2 hours before dawn in Aquarius. Its present magnitude of 1 makes it a dim object for viewing in the dawn twilight. In the coming weeks, however, Mars will be rising earlier and progressing into a darker part of the sky, making for better viewing. Throughout the year Mars will be rising progressively earlier until it reaches "opposition" next December. This is also the time when the orbit of the Earth overtakes the slower orbit of Mars and the planets are closest together. At that time Mars will have a magnitude of -1.6, brighter than Sirius. The planet will rise at sunset then and set at sunrise, being highest in the sky around midnight. The closest approach of Mars and the Earth will occur on Dec. 18th when the planets will be about 88 million kilometers apart. The "opposition" when Mars is directly opposite the Sun, rising and setting will actually occur on Christmas Eve. At that time the planet will be best for telescopic viewing.
Just a little heads up here. On August 27th Mars and Earth made a closer approach than they have in 60,000 years, and an email titled 'Mars Spectacular' made its rounds with claims such as Mars being brighter than the full Moon. Seems that every spring and summer the email reappears with its liberal use of exclamation marks. Ignore it. Mars will be better positioned for viewing in the months to come, but the email is a hoax.

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