Have you seen that bright red object low in the east just after it gets dark? If not, go outside and check it out. That is Mars! You might think its unusual color is due to the smoke in our skies, but it really is red.
Every two years and 50 days we catch up with the small red planet, which is only about half the size of the earth. It might be a difficult idea to wrap your head around, but imagine that all the planets are on a giant racetrack going around the sun. The earth is on the third track, and Mars is on the fourth track out from the sun. We have the shorter track to follow and also we are going faster. So every once in a while, we pass Mars, approaching it closer than at any other time in that slightly longer than two-year cycle.
That is what is happening now, and in mid-October we will be at our closest to Mars, about 36 million miles away, and it will be at its brightest in the sky.
Mars was named for the god of war, possibly because its reddish color reminded the ancient people of blood. He was the son of Jupiter, king of the gods, and very handsome but rudely arrogant. The Greeks saw him as a very destructive and destabilizing force. Maybe it is no accident that he is shining down on us now in this turbulent time for our world.
In the southwest, Jupiter and Saturn are steadily shining right next to one another. Jupiter is the brighter of the two, just to the right of Saturn. If you have not looked at them yet with your small telescope, be sure to do so because they will not be with us in our evening skies much longer.
If you are up early, Venus shines brighter than anything else up there other than the moon. You cannot miss it rising in the east before dawn. Perhaps you have seen in the news that life has been discovered on Venus! Well not exactly, but a chemical called phosphine, which is a signature of life, has been observed in the thick clouds shrouding Venus.
The Russians have already claimed the planet for their own, but you would think they would at least have to plant a flag or something on its surface. That will be no easy feat with temperatures at 900 degrees Fahrenheit and the pressure great enough to flatten a car!
If you want to see our solar system at work, watch Mars begin to fade in November, getting dimmer and dimmer as we plunge into winter.