The University Record, March 11, 1997

Watch for Mars in March night skies

On March 17, Earth passes between Mars and the sun at a distance of 60 million miles---our closest approach to Mars until 1999. But if the moon or clouds interfere with the view on the 17th, Mars remains visible all month rising in the east at sunset and setting in the west at sunrise.

Located directly south of us at midnight, the planet is a bright reddish lamp hanging halfway up from the Southern horizon, according to Richard Teske, professor emeritus of astronomy.

"Moonlight will dim observations of Mars in mid-March," Teske says. "But sky watchers who stay up to observe a partial eclipse of the moon beginning at 10 p.m. on March 23 should be rewarded with sightings of the red planet just above and to the right of the darkened moon."

This month's close encounter between Mars and Earth takes place because the two planets play a perpetual game of orbital tag. The more swiftly moving Earth chases slower Mars, gaining one full lap and passing once every 26 months. The next close encounter will occur in spring 1999.

For more information about Mars, visit News and Information Services releases online.