Ray Bradbury, the celebrated science fiction author, has taken millions of people on imaginative journeys to Mars through his work for over half a century. Now Mars is coming to Bradbury, so to speak, when the planet draws closer to Earth than it has been in over 50,000 years.
To celebrate the opposition of Mars on August 27 and Bradbury's 83rd birthday on August 22, The Planetary Society is gathering birthday greetings from well-wishers around the world to present to Bradbury in a giant birthday card. Anyone can join in sending these greetings by visiting The Planetary Society's web page. The deadline for birthday greetings is August 20.
"The Planetary Society has proclaimed August 27 Mars Day, and how better to celebrate than by honoring the man whose stories have captured the allure of Mars for generations of readers," said Bruce Betts, Director of Projects at The Planetary Society.
The Society is co-sponsoring over 250 Mars Watch events worldwide so that participants can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at star parties, programs and festivals. Venues include such diverse locales as the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California; the Zeiss Planetarium in Vienna, Austria; and the Nagoya City Science Museum in Japan.
Now appearing bright red-orange in the evening sky, Mars will be at perihelic opposition on August 27, which means that the planet is at a point in its orbit when it is both closest to the Sun and to the Earth. Greater detail than usual on the planet's surface can be discerned through telescopes, and the planet will appear brighter in the night sky to the naked eye.
The web site also includes information on when Mars rises and sets at different locations around the world, hands-on activities for children, an international Mars Art Contest, and more.
Building on the excitement over this close approach to Mars, five spacecraft are en route to the Red Planet: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission (Spirit and Opportunity), the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express and Beagle 2, and Japans Nozomi mission.
The Planetary Society's Mars Watch celebrations will culminate January 2-4, 2004 at Planetfest in Pasadena, California, where thousands are expected to attend a weekend festival and witness the first Mars Exploration Rover landers touchdown on the Martian surface.