Red Planet Mars Sidles up to Mother Earth; Best View Saturday March 3

Mars, Earth and the sun will align on March 3, giving Earthlings a rare glimpse of the Red Planet that will be broadcast online by the Slooh Space Camera.

Well, it's the warrior planet, so it won't get too, too friendly. But this weekend Mars is making its closest approach to Earth in two years, rising in the east just after sunset and setting at dawn. The best view will be around midnight to the south, astronomers say.

Two things are happening with Mars this weekend. On Saturday night, March 3, Mars is in opposition—that is, it will be on one side of Earth while the sun will be on the other. This puts the sun's full illumination on the Red Planet. The show, NASA says, will be worth a look. The naked eye will see Mars as an unblinking orange-red dot, while those gazing through a telescope can view the Red Planet's actual features—polar ice caps and perhaps a crater or two.

Also not to be missed, especially with telescope, are the vision of Saturn in the southeast, according to the Windsor Star in Canada. This is on top of the continuing show given by Venus and Jupiter as they close in on one another through mid-March, along with views of Mercury just after sunset.

Those not lucky enough to have a telescope and/or clear skies can watch the Mars-opposition action live courtesy of the Slooh Space Camera, which will broadcast a free, real-time feed of the Mars opposition from 11:00 p.m. EST (8:00 p.m. PST) on, said. Commentary will be provided by Astronomy magazine's Bob Berman, as well as Patrick Paolucci from Slooh, said.

A couple of days later, on March 5, this warrior planet, the next one out from the sun after Mother Earth, will be its closest in two years, providing slightly better viewing, telescopically speaking.

As Wired points out, Mars is 62 million miles away this time, so it still won't be as close as it can get. In 2003, Wired notes, the planets came within 35 million miles of each other, but that only happens once every 60,000 years or so. In 2287, which is 275 years from now, they've penciled in a date to get that close once again, Wired said.