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    News Posts Spectacular Mars Fly-By Pix From Hubble Space Telescope!

    (August 27, 2003, updated 2:55 p.m.) -- posts photos below from the Hubble Space Telescope of this morning's Mars fly-by -- Earth's closest encounter with the red planet in nearly 60,000 years.

    We also post our own somewhat less spectacular digital photo snapped without a telescope at's ELB world headquarters shortly after midnight. LB got a spectacular view of Mars, clearly visible in the southeast sky and very bright with the naked eye.

    The Hubble Space Telescope photos -- taken from space free of the distortion of Earth's atmosphere -- were taken Tuesday night Aug. 26 and early morning Aug. 27.

    The two images taken 11 hours apart with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveal two nearly opposite sides of Mars. Hubble snapped these photos as the red planet was making its closest approach to Earth in almost 60,000 years. Mars completed nearly one half a rotation between the two observations.


    NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this snapshot of Mars 11 hours before the planet made its closest approach to Earth. The two planets are 34,648,840 miles (55,760,220 km) apart. This image was made from a series of exposures taken between 6:20 p.m. and 7:12 p.m. EDT Aug. 26 with Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.
    Credit: NASA, J. Bell (Cornell U.) and M. Wolff (SSI)
    Additional image processing and analysis support from: K. Noll and A. Lubenow (STScI); M. Hubbard (Cornell U.); R. Morris (NASA/JSC); P. James (U. Toledo); S. Lee (U. Colorado); and T. Clancy, B. Whitney and G. Videen (SSI); and Y. Shkuratov (Kharkov U.)
    Photo: NASA


    Credit: NASA, J. Bell (Cornell U.) and M. Wolff (SSI)
    Additional image processing and analysis support from: K. Noll and A. Lubenow (STScI); M. Hubbard (Cornell U.); R. Morris (NASA/JSC); P. James (U. Toledo); S. Lee (U. Colorado); and T. Clancy, B. Whitney and G. Videen (SSI); and Y. Shkuratov (Kharkov U.)
    Photo: NASA

    [text from NASA's]

    NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped the second portrait of Mars within minutes of the planet's closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years. It was made from a series of exposures taken between 2:35 a.m. and 3:20 a.m. PDT Aug. 27 with Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. In the second photo, the red planet is 34,647,420 miles (55,757,930 km) from Earth.

    This sharp, natural-color view of Mars reveals several prominent Martian features, including the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons; a system of canyons called Valles Marineris; an immense dark marking called Solis Lacus; and the southern polar ice cap.

    Olympus Mons [the oval-shaped feature just above center] is the size of Arizona and three times higher than Mount Everest. The dormant volcano resides in a region called the Tharsis Bulge, which is about the size of the U.S. and home to several extinct volcanoes. The three Tharsis Montes volcanoes are lined up just below Olympus Mons. Faint clouds are hovering over Arsia Mons, the southernmost of these volcanoes.

    The long, dark scar, below and to the right of the Tharsis Bulge, is Valles Marineris, a 2,480-mile (4,000-km) system of canyons. Just below Valles Marineris is Solis Lacus, also known as the "Eye of Mars." The dark features to the left of Solis Lacus are the southern highlands, called Terra Sirenum, a region riddled with impact craters. The diameters of these craters range from 31 to 124 miles (50 to 200 km).

    The image was taken during the middle of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. During this season the Sun shines continuously on the southern polar ice cap, causing the cap to shrink in size [bottom of image]. The orange streaks are indications of dust activity over the polar cap. The cap is made of carbon dioxide ice and water ice, but only carbon dioxide ice is seen in this image. The water ice is buried beneath the carbon dioxide ice. It will only be revealed when the cap recedes even more over the next two months. By contrast, the Northern Hemisphere is in the midst of winter. A wave of clouds covers the northern polar ice cap and the surrounding region [top of image].

    This view of Mars reveals a striking contrast between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The Northern Hemisphere is home to volcanoes that may have been active about 1 billion years ago. These volcanoes resurfaced the north's landscape, perhaps filling in many impact craters. The Southern Hemisphere is pockmarked with ancient impact craters, which appear dark because many are filled with coarser sand-sized particles.

    This photograph is a color composite generated from observations taken with blue, green, and red filters. A total of 11 filters, spanning a wide wavelength range—-from blue to near infrared—-were used during the observations. The shorter wavelengths show clouds and other atmospheric changes. The longer wavelengths, including the near infrared, reveal Martian surface features.

    [end text]

    And finally...this: Mars photographed from's ELB world headquarters shortly after midnight Aug. 27:


    And that's how it looked...brighter than the brightest star.

    In case you missed it, don't fret. Mars will continue to be visible and quite bright for the next few weeks. Or you can wait until the year 2287.

    As first reported weeks ago, Mars has been big, bright and impossible to miss in the southeast LB sky after about 9:30 p.m. It came closest to Earth at 2:51 a.m. PDT on August 27 when it was 34,646,418 miles away.

    As eloquently described on, Mars was closest to earth "than it has been in nearly 60,000 years. That's an interval ten times longer than all of recorded history. The last time Mars came this close, Neanderthals flourished and humans had not yet occupied Australia."

    The last time Mars was nearly that close was in 57,617 B.C.

    Further info: Here's L.A.'s Griffith Observatory Mars page:

    Why was Mars so bright and close this year? The Griffith Observatory web site explains in part:

    The earth and Mars orbit the sun so that every 2 years and 2 months the earth catches Mars and Mars shines brightly in our sky. But all close approaches of Mars are not equal. Because the orbits of earth and Mars are not round, the minimum separation between the two planets can vary from 63 to 35 million miles. Very close approaches happen approximately every 15 or 17 years. The last were in 1988, 1971, and 1956, and the next very close approach of Mars will come in 2018...

    This year, Mars comes exceptionally close to earth. Very gradual changes in the shapes of the orbits of Mars and the earth changes the minimum possible separation between the two planets. The orbit of Mars is very slowly becoming more out-of-round, bringing Mars slightly closer to the sun and to the earth each century. This is why Mars comes so exceptionally close this year, when it is slightly nearer to earth than it has been for 60,000 years. Mars is 34,646,418 miles distant at 2:51 a.m. P.D.T. on August 27th (measuring from the center of the earth to the center of Mars) -- slightly closer than it has been since 57,617 B.C. Mars won't come closer until 2287.

    The difference between the very close approach of Mars this year and its close approaches in 1988 and 2018 is minor, and amounts to less than 2 million miles out of 35 million miles, or less than five percent. As seen through a telescope, Mars has a maximum angular diameter of 25.1 arcseconds this year as opposed to 23.8 arcseconds in 1988, an amount that is far too small to notice. In practice, this is the best appearance of Mars since 15 years ago and the best for the next 15 years...

    A second factor in ranking the best appearances of Mars is its altitude in the sky. This years Mars is in the constellation Aquarius when closest, and it is comparatively high in the sky as seen from the earth's Northern Hemisphere. This is of special interest to people who view Mars through a telescope and who want Mars to be above the lowest and most turbulent layers of our atmosphere.

    Combining a close distance and relatively high height in the sky makes this the best of the best half-dozen best times to see Mars in your lifetime.

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