Hey, you know Mars – the next-door planet, the one that possibly also has liquid water on it, the one from which the chances of anything coming are a million to one, he said? Well, it’s about to be closer than it’s been in a decade an a half, and hits its closest point tonight.
More specifically, it’ll be 0.385 astronomical units (57.6 million km) away from us, and won’t get that close again until 2035. So if you’ve been planning to yell something at Mars this is your best chance for almost two decades.
And just in case there’s some weird apocalyptic prediction attached to this that we’ve missed, it’s going to be fine. It’s not that amazing a thing – a few weeks ago the Earth was at its closest point to Pluto, between the Sun and it, and did you notice anything? No, you did not.
Mars has had some wild weather lately which has had some big effects back on Earth. While the Curiosity rover has a nuclear generator which allowed it to power through the planet-wide dust storm unscathed, the same could not be said of its solar-powered big sister Opportunity, which has been in hibernation for over a month.
There’s a question mark over whether it will ever be able to recharge its batteries before freezing to robot-death (which happened to its twin Spirit in 2010), since it’ll take a while for the skies to clear enough for the sun to hit the surface. Also, it’s assuming that Opportunity’s not totally buried in dust.
It’s been a pretty amazing month for looking at the night sky. We had the Blood Moon with the lunar eclipse last week, and we’ve had the unusual situation of having all five of the visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – in the night sky, which is rare given that they all have their own orbits to be getting on with.
Also, the Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower has been a-showering, although that’s easier to see the more toward the equator you are, and also has come at the same time as a very bright full moon which sort of overpowers a lot of it. Still, it’s nice to know that we’re moving through a weird little dusty patch on our orbit, right?
And it’s always worth remembering that you, fellow Australians, get some of the best views of the Milky Way spanning the sky of anyone on the planet – at least, we and everyone else at our latitude. High five, Argentina, southern Africa and most of South East Asia!
In any case, friends, get out and have a look at our skies. They’re never not spectacular.