Now is the best chance to view Mars up-close


 Even through the thin veil of clouds, a brightly shining star is clearly visible in the southern sky.

 That stars is Mars, and this week it will make its closest pass to Earth in about 60,000 years.

 But urbanites may regard it as a lonely light in the absence of starry firmament.

 Excluding the moon, Mars is the most familiar stars for inhabitants of Earth. As for Martians themselves, we can even imagine what they might look like – aliens with mushroom-like heads and octopus like legs, as conceived by British novelist H.G. Wells in the late 19th century.

 In the world of fiction, Earth has been attacked by Martians countless times since Wellsf gThe War of the Worlds.h In one well-known incident, a radio drama based on the famous scientific fantasy broadcast in the United States by the CBS network in 1938 cause panic because so many people believed a Martian invasion was taking place.

 In Frederic Brownfs gMartians, Go Home,h Earth is thrown into great confusion by an invading army of mean Martians. (A Japanese translation is available in the Hayakawa Library.) The secretary-general of the United Nations announces gsurrenderh in a radio broadcast and calls for an end to all wars, saying it is time for hate groups to stop fighting. People all over the world chant gyesh in unison. The collective response booms as if it could be heard on Mars.

@Many of the stories told about Mars in the West are related to war. This reflects the fact that Mars is the god of war in Roman mythology. At the same time, Mars has been thought of as something like a mirror- a next-door star urging self-reflection on ceaseless strife on Earth.

 Imagine what it was like on Earth 60,000 years ago. It must have been a pitch-dark world at night, with stars filling the heavens.

 I wonder what Neanderthals thought as they looked up at Mars, a particularly radiant star in the cosmos.

=The Asahi Shimbun, Aug.25