Astronomy clubs across Iowa are having nighttime events all this week, peering into telescopes to see one of Earth’s neighbors close-up — although “close” in space terms is about 34-million miles. Doug Rudd is president of the Des Moines Astronomical Society and explains what’s so unusual over the next few days.Both Earth and Mars have elliptical orbits and right now, Mars is at its nearest position to the sun while Earth is the farthest away, putting both planets the closest they’ve been in millennia. Wednesday night will be the nearest the two have been in many, many thousands of years. Rudd explains just how rare it is that the two planets are this close. The last time this happened was about 60-thousand years ago — or in 57,617 BC. The next time the planets will be this close in proximity will be in 284 years. Rudd says people who have access to a good telescope or a superior set of binoculars will be able to distinguish a pronounced disc shape.You’ll be able to see the polar caps and depending on weather conditions may even be able to see some of the surface features of Mars, gray valleys. The society is holding free public viewings at its observatory near the town of Baxter each night, Wednesday through Saturday. For more details, surf to “www.dmasonline.org”. Hillside Observatory in Cedar Falls is also having a viewing on Wednesday night.
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