This certainly isn’t news to anyone, but we’ve just passed our closest approach to Mars for the next few hundred years; if any of you haven’t found a local club or friend with a telescope and taken a look at that incredibly bright red dot in the sky, please do in the next week.
I just got back from a Texas Astronomical Society viewing party and it was quite an experience, not just for the sweet view. 2-300 people were milling around the field waiting in line to peer through the more impressive telescopes present. There were the expected geeks (myself included) and stargazing fans, but I really liked seeing those people who had been convinced to come out there just because the event was so rare they thought they should see it with their own eyes.
Through a telescope, the rotation of the the earth is fast enough to pretty quickly move a particular object out of the field of view. The owners of the scopes frequently had to remind people that we’re whirling around through the void, so our view is far from static. It brought an air of poignant transience to the evening, brought to closure as cloud cover ended the event abruptly.
But those present got their fleeting view of our celestial neighbor as it moved past. It’s both a little easier to laugh at the world and a little easier to take it more seriously knowing just where you are and I hope that’s what the people taking a break from the evening news tonight gained. Like I said, go find someplace in your area and have a look. It’s good for you.