The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs itsorbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.
The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification. By August 27, Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the East at 10p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m. By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30a.m.That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month.
I have a distinct memory of seeing my first lunar eclipse. I must have been three or four, when my family still lived in a cabin in the rocky mountains. It was summer, I think, and the middle of the night. My parents woke me up, and I remember snuggling into my dad's arms while watching the moon slowly get swallowed in shadow.
A friend of mine sent me this reminder today. Bean will be too young to remember it, but I think DH and I will make a point of going somewhere in late August away from city lights, out in nature, perhaps on a mountain top, where we can watch that little firey spot glow its brightest. And I'm certain we'll marvel at our smallness, little specks in this huge galaxy. And yet, watching Bean grow, I marvel also at our greatness--each and every one of us humans, unique and bright and different in so many myriad ways.