The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 15, 2003


Mars now at closest approach to Earth

Mars as seen by the Hubble telescope.
Anyone interested in observing the planets at their best should not miss the present opportunity to view Mars. On August 27, Mars will be closer to Earth and brighter than any other time in recorded history. But don't be fooled by media hype into thinking this is the only date worth viewing. In fact, for the remainder of August and all of September, Mars will appear brighter and larger than at the 2001 closest approach.

Mars is easy to find since it outshines all other planets and stars in the sky. On August 15 it rises about 9:00 p.m. in the southeast. But since it is below the celestial equator it will remain low in the sky throughout the night, reaching its highest elevation, about 33 degrees, when it crosses (transits) the meridian, that north-south line passing through your zenith, about 2:00 a.m. on the 16

I took the opportunity to observe Mars on July 29 and 30 in a dark Vermont sky with a 13-inch diameter telescope, and the image was stunning. I could easily see shading in the south polar cap, a dark edge to the cap as it receded for solar warming, and details on the planet's lower latitudes. Since Mars is still small in diameter, about 22 to 25 arc seconds depending upon the date, I needed a magnifying power of over 200. But even with a smaller telescope it is well worth the effort to stay up late enough to view the reddish planet.

For more information check the Sky & Telescope magazine for June 2003, page 93, or their website,

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito