Earthlings prepare for close encounter

Space enthusiasts and other earthlings are all moving at five km a second towards Mars - and they can't wait for the close encounter.

    Seeing red: Astronomers prepare telescopes for Mars close-up

    The two planets will soon be as close to each other as is physically possible, giving amateur astronomers an unparalleled view of the Red Planet.
    Forget previous close-ups in the Augusts of 1924, 1845 and 1766 - this time it is seriously close ... less than 60 million km.

    The last time Mars got this near, Neanderthals rather than Homo Sapiens were gazing at the bright reddish-orange point inside the constellation of Aquarius.

    The slightly elliptical curve of their orbits causes this rare meeting, occuring only once every 60,000 years.
    On 27 August, Earth will only be 55.7 million kilometres away from Mars.

    It  might seem a great distance to mere mortals, but is relatively small considering the vastness of the solar system. 
    Telescopes to the ready

    Earth calling Mars: Three probes
    will arrive around January

    Telescopes will help the average terrestrial see Mars in unusual detail, notably the ice cap on its southern pole, which reflects the Sun's light and looks like an enormous white spot.
    Ron Wayman, an amateur astronomer in Florida, expressed his amazement: "I can see the polar ice vividly using my 20-centimetre telescope." Only Venus shines brighter.
    Naturally, the quality of view amateurs will get depends on where they are standing, when they are looking, and how powerful their telescope is.

    So it will be important for star gazers to consider their schedules carefully around 07:00 GMT on 27 August.
    The relative proximity of the neighbouring planet is a window of opportunity for would-be Martian invaders.

    But true to Aljazeera spirit, it is more likely little green men feel a greater threat from Earth.

    Three intrusive probes - two from the United States and one from Europe - are already headed toward Mars, where they are expected to land early next year and roam around the surface, digging holes and analysing rocks.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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