CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH MARS: Have you noticed an intense red star rising in the east in recent evenings? That's no star, that's Mars. The red planet is having a close encounter with Earth this week. At closest approach on Tuesday evening, Dec. 18th, the two worlds will lie only 55 million miles apart. Mars won't be this nearby again until the year 2016. To the naked eye, Mars now outshines every star in the night sky (it is slightly brighter than Sirius) and it looks great through a backyard telescope. Visit http://spaceweather.com for photos, observing tips and sky maps.
NOTE: While, technically speaking, Mars is at its best and brightest only on Dec. 18th, the red planet will remain unusually close and beautiful for weeks to come. This makes it a Merry Martian Christmas for anyone who finds a telescope under their tree on Dec. 25th