Stargazers will have a lot to admire in the next few weeks. The red planet Mars will be orbiting 35 million miles close to home, that's three times closer than the sun.
William Alexander, Assistant JMU Astronomy Professor, says, "This is a good opportunity for people always interested in the stars to have a reason to go out and to look for it."
Besides its historical significance, Alexander says Mars' visit will spark public interest and scientific insight. He says humans have been fascinated for centuries with the planet, but only in the past few decades have we been able to study its polar ice caps and canals.
"When we look at other planets - when we look at Saturn or Venus or Jupiter - you can only see clouds, but with Mars, it sparked a lot of fascination in the 19th century, because you can actually see surface features," says Alexander.
Just last week NASA launched its first surface probe of the planet. It's expected to land in 2008.
Past images suggest water once flowed on or near Mars, leading many to believe life once existed there. At JMU's John C. Wells Planetarium, Alexander doesn't do too much Martian talk.
He puts on a free program for star-lovers each month. Next week, he'll be taking a scientific journey to Mars.
The public is welcome to attend. For more information, call 1-540-JMU-STAR.
If you're looking for Mars from your backyard, the best time to scope it out is at 11 p.m. in the southeastern sky. It'll be visible until late September, with the best viewing August 27.