Frederick Pilcher, of the Physics Department of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, wrote to tell us he thinks the whole Mars Mania thing was a bit overdone.
agrees that Mars was closest to the Earth on August 27, he
asserts that the degree of that closeness is relatively unexciting.
"There is more to the story," wrote Frederick
"The eccentricity of Mars' orbit changes cyclically over a time interval of several tens of thousands of years.
The eccentricity is now increasing.
This makes the closest distance between Mars and Sun, and therefore between Earth orbit and Mars orbit, slowly decrease, less now than in the past 59,619 years.
By contrast, as the minimum distance between the two orbits continues to decrease, we will have an even closer approach in about another 200 years."
, never one to underestimate our readers' love for accuracy, goes on to say that "the significance of this 'closest' approach is overblown.
Approaches within 60 million kilometers occur every 15 to 17 years, and the visibility of Mars through smaller telescopes is nearly as good as at the current close approach.
For northern hemisphere viewers, the view in September 1988 at slightly greater distance was even better than what we are now enjoying because Mars was much higher in the sky and viewed through a smaller column of distorting air currents."
concludes that "it is every 15 to 17 years, not every 60,000 years, that an extremely close approach to Mars warrants, and receives, the great observational attention now being directed to this planet.