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When Three Worlds Align

by Dirk Vander Ploeg

Red Planet is ready for its close-up
Mars opposition means red skies at night

     The red planet reaches its opposition - when the sun, Earth and Mars all line up, on November 7, 2005. Mars will be closer to Earth then (43 million miles) than it has been in the last 60,000 years, except for a close approach in 2003. The next closest approach won't be until June 2018.

     But this approach will be much easier to see than the one in 2003. Mars will be seen as the brightest nighttime celestial object and can be easily seen with the naked eye. With a high-powered telescope Mars will appear as a yellow-orange disc large enough to show polar caps, surface features, clouds and dust storms.

     This November Mars will be appear much higher in the sky than its earlier approach, which will decrease the amount of atmospheric distortion and make it easier to view.

     To minimize the negative effects of the earth's atmosphere wait until it is at least 30 degrees above the horizon. Best viewing will be 71 degrees above the horizon. This is almost straight up. As Venus sets, Mars is the brightest object in the evening sky (except for the moon). Mars will rise around a quarter-hour after sunset, but give it at least two more hours to climb higher in the sky.

     It would not be unusual for strange things to occur during this alignment. In the past Hindu seers have foretold of war, European astrologers predicted peace and harmony and Germany reported a rash in UFO sightings. So as you look high into the night sky remember the history of these alignments and don't be too surprised at what you see and what you learn.

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