Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mars Closest to Earth Tonight -- Best View until 2016

The bright yellowish-orange "star" poised above the constellation Gemini is actually the planet Mars, and tonight the icy world will make its closest approach to Earth until 2016.

"Earth comes close to Mars because our planet is moving faster in its orbit, catching up to and passing Mars," said Jaymie Mark Matthews, an astronomer at Canada's University of British Columbia.

Tonight's passage happens while Mars is in retrograde motion, or appearing to move westward across the night sky.

"Thus, for the three months around closest approach, the yellowish-orange planet will appear to move slowly backward from the constellation Gemini into Taurus," said Edward Murphy, an astronomer at the University of Virginia.

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