On August 27, the planet Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in more than 50,000 years. The planetary event will enable the public, space enthusiasts and astronomers to view greater detail on a planet that is increasingly seen as humankind's next giant leap.
Bright red-orange in the evening sky, Mars will be in perihelic opposition this summer, meaning the celestial body is at a point in its orbit when it is both closest to the Sun and to the Earth.
To celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event, The Planetary Society will mark this occasion with special events around the world, including an 83rd birthday party for a man whose name is now synonymous with the Red Planet - Ray Bradbury, author of the famous The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury's birthday comes the same week as this historic Mars opposition.
"If ever there was a man who could be billed 'the leading man of Mars,' it is the brilliant Ray Bradbury," commented Dr. Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society.
The public can participate in Mars Day in a wide variety of ways. The Planetary Society will collect birthday wishes for Ray Bradbury, which will then be presented to him in the form of an enormous card. The Planetary Society also will host Internet events with Bradbury near the time of Mars Day.
The public can also participate by going outside to see Mars and learn more about it. To facilitate this, The Planetary Society has launched a Mars Watch campaign to raise public awareness and to function as a co-sponsor for world events. Over 100 such events in 60 locales are already being planned with more scheduled each week. Event locations include such diverse venues as the Zeiss Planetarium in Vienna, Austria; the Nagoya City Science Museum in Japan; and the Children's Science Center in Cape Coral, Florida.
For details on observing Mars from your own location, check the Mars Watch site at The Planetary Society’s website. This site is full of information about the Red Planet and includes data on the planet's geological and exploration history, hands-on activities for children, a list of worldwide Mars Watch events, upcoming Mars photo and art contests, and recipes for fun Martian snacks.
In addition to observing Mars from Earth, people around the world will also be keeping an eye on several spacecraft, representing various nations, on their journey to the Red Planet. Five spacecraft are on their way, and late this year will join two others already in orbit around Mars. The five robotic space explorers en route include NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission (Spirit), the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express and Beagle 2, and Japan's Nozomi mission. NASA's second Mars Exploration Rover -- Opportunity -- is slated to launch on June 28 from Cape Canaveral.
Bolted to each of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover spacecraft is a mini-DVD. Each disc is provided by The Planetary Society to carry to the surface of Mars the names of 4 million people collected by NASA. Astrobots, which are representations of LEGO mini-figures suited up for space, appear as part of the structure that mounts the mini-DVD onto each spacecraft. The astrobots, named Biff Starling and Sandy Moondust, explore the spacecraft and Mars and chronicle their adventure in fun, educational ways.
The Mars celebrations will culminate January 2-4 at Planetfest in Pasadena, California, where thousands are expected to attend a weekend festival observing the first Mars Exploration Rover lander as it touches down on the Martian surface.