Mars set to make rare appearance



Area astronomy fans will be looking to the sky tomorrow, when Mars will be closer to Earth than at any point in recorded history.

"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," said Wayne Christensen, a Sonora Meadows astronomy buff who teaches classes through the Columbia College Community Education program.

The Red Planet can be seen with the naked eye around 10:30 p.m. in the eastern sky, he said. It will be the largest object in the sky save for the moon.

"It is just large and beautiful now," he said.

In the early morning, Mars will be visible in the western sky.

Tomorrow, only about 34 million miles will separate Earth from Mars the closest the two planets have been in almost 60,000 years, according to, the Web site for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Because Earth and Mars have two different, elliptical orbits, there is no "normal" distance that separates them. It just so happens that our orbit is close enough to Mars' right now that the two planets are closer than they've been in millennia.

"If you looked at Mars before, you will definitely notice the difference," Christensen said.

Even a novice should be able to notice the brighter, orange glow of Earth's celestial neighbor, he added.

Local residents will have an opportunity to see the astrological event through the Columbia College Observatory's 14-inch telescope on Saturday. Two 8-inch telescopes will also be available at the college's free "Star Party," to begin at 8:30 p.m.

"We will be looking at lots of things, not just Mars, but Mars will be the focal point," Christensen said.

On Saturday, Christensen went up to Sonora Pass with a few others to view Mars as it nears Earth.

"It was just beautiful," he said.

The Union Democrat
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