Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Question: Is the current situation in the California recall more a result of

a) incompetent USAmerican politicians?

b) USAmerican's stupid obsession with 'celebrities'?

c) something else?

I know this much, it feels more like something out of Philip K Dick than reality. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Earth imageThis is the first image of Earth (top and middle) taken from another planet.

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water..

—War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1898)

At 5:51 a.m. EDT on Aug. 27, 2003, Mars will be within 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 kilometers) of Earth. This will be the closest that Mars has come to our planet in nearly 60,000 years.

Prior to the 1988 close pass, the two planets were even closer in 1971, just 34.9 million miles (56.2 million kilometers) apart. The 2003 approach is less than 1 percent closer than the one in 1971, Standish points out.

"So it's not like you're going to see something gigantic in the sky," he said. "It’s not like Mars is going to look like the Moon or anything [although I understand that you only need a fairly modest telescope (75 power) to make it appear so - JH]"

Mars will appear strikingly brilliant, however. It will be about as bright as Jupiter ever gets. It will shine like a beacon in its characteristic red or orange, in stark contrast to most of the other planets and stars, which exhibit little color.

Officially, Mars will reach magnitude minus-2.9 on a scale used by astronomers to denote brightness. Lower numbers indicate brighter objects, and negative numbers are reserved for the very brightest.

The Red Planet will present a large enough disk for backyard astronomers with good-sized telescopes to discern some of the planet's features, such as the polar ice cap, dark surface features and perhaps even storm clouds.

-- Orbital Oddities: Why Mars will be So Close to Earth in August

Hubble Space Telescope took this picture of Mars during an opposition on June 26, 2001, when Mars was approximately 43 million miles (68 million km) from Earth.

The winter rains had been impeding my view of Mars until the last couple of days but since then the sky has been clear (and icy cold). Mars is bright and unmistakable and it's very conveniently rising at nightfall and rising during the course of the evening. Also conveniently for sky gazers, apparently there won't be a moon visible on the 27th.