Mars Up Close and Personal

Take a good look at that red dot in the night sky recently? That’s Mars folks, and if you have a pair of binoculars with a 75x magnification or more, you should be able to see Mars just as well as you would be able to see the moon. Now that’s cool stuff!

Mars usually averages about 140 million miles away from Earth, but on Wednesday its orbit brought it about 34.6 million miles away, reaching the closest point at 5:46 a.m. EDT. The planet will not be so close to Earth again until 2287.

The southern hemisphere was favored for viewing because Mars was much higher in the sky there than in the north. In the United States or in Europe, Mars will not get 20 or 30 degrees above the horizon while in Argentina or Australia it will be at 70 degrees, nearly directly over the heads of viewers.

“Australia is as good as anywhere, but Africa would be very good as well,” said Nick Lomb, Sydney Observatory’s (search) curator of astronomy.

South of the equator, Mars’s high position in sky means less atmosphere to obscure the view, particularly through telescopes, he said.

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