Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Mars Opposition

MarsToday, at 9.51 GMT, Mars was closer to Earth than at any time since 57,617 BC – 59,619 years ago. The Red Planet approached to within 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 km) of Earth – only 145 times the distance of the Moon. It won't be as near again until 2287 August 28.

Mars is in the constellation Aquarius right now, and easily identified as the brightest object in the night sky (apart from the Moon) as well as by its orange-red colour. It will remain easy to spot for several months, low in the sky for UK observers and others in mid-Northern latitudes, somewhere between the southeast and the southwest (depending on the date and time.)

At its peak brightness, Mars will reach magnitude -2.9, far outshining the brightest star, Sirius (magnitude -1.5). It will remain brighter than Sirius until mid-October. Venus is the only planet that can appear brighter, but Venus will not be easily visible again until December 2003.

In Assyria, Mars was known as the "Shedder of Blood". The Red Planet also represented the god of war for the Vikings, the Greeks and the Romans. The red colouration of Mars is due to oxidised iron minerals in the surface rocks – rust.

Info and Images found on Royal Astronomical Society and National Astronomy Week 2003 websites.

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