Great Timing

On August 27, 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, passing approximately 56,000,000 km (35,000,000 mi) apart, centre-to-centre.

Not all people on the planet were close at the same time but as Earth rotated, everyone could experience the view. Around the world there were “Mars parties” because even without the benefit of binoculars, Mars was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. Of course, Mars didn’t just zoom in then zoom out, it remained easier to see for a good month as the red planet’s orbit around the sun brought it a little closer to Earth. Since Earth moves faster in its orbit around the sun than Mars, Earth laps Mars approximately every two years.

As for that “closest in 60,000 years” business? Sure. But Mars and Earth have been almost as close many times before. The difference in distance centre-to-centre in those “almost” years? Not quite 50,000 km (31,000 mi). What’s a few thousand miles difference when you’re already talking millions? A bit of fun publicity and a saving in time and money for spacecraft travel! NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency took advantage of the long distance savings and sent spacecraft to Mars that year.

The Scientific Visualization Studio of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center created this Mars Roll animation that “rolls” Mars to show its major topographic features, including the planet’s North and South Poles.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage

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