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Mars Becomes a Star

Red as rust (which actually accounts for its color), Mars has long fascinated humans.

Its color led ancient Greeks and Romans to name their gods of war after it. But war will be far from most earthlings' thoughts on Wednesday, when the Red Planet and the Blue Planet will be their closest in 59,619 years, a mere 34 million miles apart.

This celestial occasion, caused by the coincidence of their orbits being farthest (Earth's) and closest (Mars') to the sun, has brought out the amateur astronomer in millions of people. Owning a telescope has become an excuse for a skygazing party.

It's one more example of a human desire to draw closer to the heavens, be they gods or simply rusted rock.

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