Red Planet set for close approach

hamba

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Red Planet set for close approach

Mars is set for a close encounter with Earth, approaching to within 69.4 million km (43.1 million miles) of our planet in the early hours of Sunday.


With good conditions and a lack of cloud, amateur astronomers will be able to get an unusually good look at Mars.

The Red Planet will not swing this close to Earth for another 13 years.

Small telescopes will be able to see Mars as a brilliant ball; observers with more powerful instruments will be able to see features on the surface.

In August 2003, the Red Planet made an even closer approach to Earth, when it was at its nearest for about 60,000 years at a distance of 55.6 million km (34.6 million miles).

But Mars will be higher in the sky than it was in 2003, meaning that the planet's light will not be affected as much by the Earth's atmosphere. This will make for better viewing in the northern hemisphere.

Dust storms

"In the UK you will get a clearer view than you did a couple of years ago," Peter Bond, of the Royal Astronomical Society told the BBC News website.

Through small and medium-sized telescopes, Mars will appear as a small, luminous ball.

But Mr Bond said amateur astronomers might be able to see Syrtis Major, a dark, triangular patch on the Martian surface near the equator. The planet's southern polar cap might also be visible through telescopes.

But the Red Planet is also going through its southern summer, with an accompanying increased risk of dust storms. This means surface features could be blotted out.

Mars will continue to be the brightest object in the sky for the next month.

It reaches opposition - when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky - at 0820 GMT on 7 November. Mars will then rise in the east at sunset, reaching its highest position in the sky an hour after midnight.
Earth and Mars are usually separated by about 225 million km (140 million miles).





Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/10/28 11:28:59 GMT
© BBC MMV
 
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