HOW RARE IS THIS?
Every 15-17 years, Mars comes a little nearer to Earth than usual. Mars
though, is about 35 million miles away and, as we donít have a tape measure that
stretches quite this far, scientists argue about exactly how near it actually is
getting. But they all agree that Mars is now as close as it can ever get.
Most think this last happened 73,000 years ago, some say 60,000 and others say it
might have last done this as recently as 10,000 years ago.
TO SEE THE COSMIC SHOW...
No matter where you happen to be in the world, just look in the sky towards
the southeast. Mars will rise over eastern horizon around 11pm and slowly cross
the sky to be due south by about 1am Unless there is a lot of cloud, you
wonít have much trouble spotting it. It looks like a distant flare or firework.
Only the Moon is brighter and bigger.
WHY IS MARS NOW SO BRIGHT?
Is Mars so bright now because it is so close? Yes and no. The closeness is
part of the answer, but in fact Mars has no light of its own, so what you are
seeing is reflected sunlight. The light from the sun goes out past Earth, to
Mars, and is then reflected off Mars back to Earth. Those sunbeams do a round
trip of about 170 million miles just to reach us! This process works best if the
sun and Mars are exactly opposite each other with the Earth in the middle, and
that's what's happening right now.