Retired astronomy professor discusses how close we are to Mars

Retired astronomy professor discusses how close we are to Mars

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Mars is as close to Earth as it has been in 15 years, but there is no need to worry about Martians.

Fred Myers, a retired astronomy professor, was on WECT's News Now Wednesday afternoon to discuss the significance of the planets being closer than they've been since 2003.

The most obvious development is Mars being more visible in the night sky.

"It's a really nice experience to be able to go outside and say to yourself, 'I'm going to find Mars in the sky' and find it all on your own and then you can say, 'Wow, I actually saw Mars,'" said Myers. "Venus is the brightest one in the sky right now and Mars is the second brightest, brighter than Jupiter right now, which is rather unusual."

In 2003, Mars was the closest it has been to our planet in 6,000 years.

"This year, we're not as close as in 2003, but almost," said Myers, who told WECT's Frances Weller after she jokingly asked about human inhabitants on the Red Planet, "There have never been people on Mars. We have landed 12 Americans on the moon, but there are no people on Mars."

Mars has a reddish or orange-ish tint and that, along with its current proximity to Earth, makes it distinguishable from the stars we normally see. Myers said Mars is in the sky all night, rising in the east as the sun sets before moving almost directly overhead by midnight.

The best chance to get a good look at the planet started around July 7 and will end Sept. 7, according to Myers.

"It'll be really nice viewing," said Myers, who noted Mars is still millions of miles away from Earth. "There are some websites out there saying it's gonna be the size of the moon. It's not."

Myers also discussed a story he wrote on last year's solar eclipse that is being published in the August issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

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