Reference URL: http://space.about.com/od/astronomyn...sclose2005.htm
Will We See a Record Approach
Take a look in the night sky.
Does the Red Planet, Mars, seem bigger than last night?
Well, you'd probably need extremely good eyes to actually tell, but if you said yes, you'd be right. Each night, Mars is getting closer to Earth (by about 23,500 mph). It will reach it's closest point on this trip on Halloween night.
It is possible you've received an email which says that Mars closest to Earth in August in 50,000 years. Sorry, that was 2 years ago, you're reading a recycled email. This year's closest approach will be October, and although it will be spectacular, it is not a record breaker.
So, why are we getting closer to Mars? Imagine two cars on a race track. If one is closer to the center of the track and traveling faster, it will eventully catch up to and pass the outer car.
Those of us who simply enjoy looking up at the night sky are not the only ones interested in Mars' close approach. NASA is planning to launch the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on August 10th, 2005. It will take over 6 months for the orbiter to reach the Red Planet. This timing will allow MRO to overtake Mars and arrive in March 2006. Once it enters orbit it starts a 2-year mission to map Mars in great detail. The MRO has high-resolution cameras which can spot objects as as small as 1 meter or less. It will use a RADAR sounder to search for water and spectrometers to look for minerals.The orbiter will also help us learn more about Mars weather aptterns.
On Halloween night, 2005, it will rise at sunset and hang overhead through most of the night. So, grab a sky map and start watching the approach of Mars, then enjoy the big show on October 31.