METRO PLUS

When Earth dates Mars

ONE CHANCE: Mars (left bottom) and the moon.

ONE CHANCE: Mars (left bottom) and the moon.  

The D-day is here. Mars makes its historic rendezvous with Earth today at 3:21 p.m. IST at a distance less than 55.76 million kilometres away, appearing a bright, orange-red object in the night sky.

AS EARTH'S next-door planetary neighbour, Mars has always been a subject of extraordinary fascination. This time for a rare event where the Roman God of War looms nearer, closer to our planet than it's been in nearly 60,000 years, its knack for attracting attention has been no less.

Mars makes its historic rendezvous with Earth today at 3:21 p.m. IST at a distance less than 55.76 million kilometres (34.65 million miles) away. Or in other words, a mere 186 light seconds away. Let's try to understand the patterns that produce this orbital phenomenon: Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars orbit the sun. But Earth is closer to the sun, and therefore races along its orbit more quickly. Earth makes two trips around the sun in about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip (Earth requires 365 days to go around the Sun once. Mars needs 687 Earth-days to fill up a calendar.). Once in a while (26 months), an orbital oddity - `Opposition', takes place. (Opposition is a term used by astronomers when the Sun and a planet - Mars in this case - are on directly opposite sides of the Earth.)

On the average, the Earth's orbital radius is 150 million km (93 million miles). Mars orbit is 1.52 times larger. Mars' closest approach to Earth at a typical opposition is 52% of the Earth-Sun distance. As both have elliptical orbits, the Earth and Mars thus, approach more closely at Opposition than others.

RED PLANET: Frosty white water ice clouds and swirling orange dust storms above a vivid rusty landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic planet.

RED PLANET: Frosty white water ice clouds and swirling orange dust storms above a vivid rusty landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic planet.  

At the opposition of August 27, Mars will be just 0.37 times the Earth's orbital distance, or almost 30% closer than during an average opposition. Mars will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. Also, Mars will appear exceptionally bright, and orange-red in colour and may almost be visible by the naked eye under ideal sky conditions.

Location of Mars in the sky:

Right Ascension: 22h39m19s.15; Declination: 15deg40'43''.4; Mars Rise Time: 19:21 Hrs; Mars Transit (Overhead): 01:02 Hrs (Aug.28).

CRIMSON TIDE: A once in a lifetime celestial happening.

CRIMSON TIDE: A once in a lifetime celestial happening.  

Mars' date with Earth has excited enough people to elicit various reactions. Astrologers around the world are busy running predictions its impact will have (Hyderabadi pundits have been busy since days), doomsayers and minor cults are as usual predicting the end of the world, stores that stock telescopes have seen a remarkable increase in customers, and observatories around the world are running to packed houses.

Without a telescope, Mars will look like a very bright star. The Red Planet would be in the constellation of Aquarius in the south-eastern sky. It might be possible to see the `Martian flares' that are believed to be brief reflections of sunlight off of clouds or frozen gas crystals in Mars' atmosphere. A typical `Martian' day is about 40 minutes longer than the Earth day, so one observing the planet at the same time each night, can see the surface features rotating into and out of view.

Do not miss out on this opportunity for it is the last of your lifetime. The next time, the feat repeats itself is in 2287 A.D.

BIPIN PRADEEP KUMAR

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