or just a cool planet Old News But
here it is anyway. I got an e-mail about this a few days ago, I guess the news only picked up on it recently (at least yahoo)
By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mars is getting ready for its close-up, with the red planet coming as near to Earth this month as it has in almost 60,000 years. Its closest pass will come on Aug. 27 at 5:51 a.m. EDT, when Mars will be less than 34.65 million miles away. The last time it came nearer was around Sept. 12 in 57,617 B.C. when Mars came about 25,000 miles closer, at a distance of 34.62 million miles from Earth. "If Neanderthals had telescopes, they would have seen it a little bit better than we will on August 27," said astronomer Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. To backyard observers, Mars will be the brightest natural object in the sky except for the sun and the moon, Chester said in a telephone interview. Even though it will be close, it will not look much bigger than it usually does. "People are kind of all thinking that all you've got to do is go outside and you're going to see this big red blob that's half the size of the moon," Chester said. "That's not the case." What people will most likely see is a brilliant pinkish object dominating the southern sky. At that point, Mars will be the brightest thing in the heavens. Venus would have shone bright if it had been visible, but it will be hidden behind the sun when Mars comes closest to Earth. Mars will appear to be about the same size as a middling-sized crater on the moon, Chester said.
To get an idea of how big Mars will seem at its closest, the typical thumb held at arms' length covers about one degree of the sky, or 3,600 arc seconds. The moon is about half a degree of the sky, or 1,800 arc seconds. Mars at its closest will appear to be 25.11 arc seconds -- only about one more arc second than its usual 24. Mars will get even closer to Earth on Aug. 28, 2287 -- but still not as close as it did in the Neanderthals' time. "It is a marvelous opportunity to get people interested in astronomy and what you can see from your own backyard," said Stephen Maran, an astronomer and spokesman for the American Astronomical Society. "We hope that more and more people will get used to looking at the sky so they will be interested in efforts to cut down on light pollution." As Earth's next-door planetary neighbor, Mars has always been a subject of fascination. Recent NASA (news - web sites) probes have sent back images suggesting water once flowed on or near the martian surface -- an exciting prospect for those curious about whether Earth-type life ever existed on Mars, since water is seen as a prerequisite for life on other planets.
On Monday, NASA selected the low-cost Phoenix probe as the first so-called Scout mission to Mars. Phoenix is expected to land on Mars in late 2008, in terrain suspected of harboring large quantities of ice within 1 foot (0.348 meter) of the surface, and then will analyze subsurface material, NASA said in a statement.
"...Wheres my friggen Tau Cannon?..."