I received the following email today:
This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Because of uncertainties due to the way Jupiter’s gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be sure that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.
The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide.
Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.
By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That’s pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month.
Unfortunately, according to this article, it’s not true. The closest Earth-Mars approach in history happened in August of 2003. But don’t fret overmuch since Earth-Mars oppositions occur about every 26 months. The next one will be in November 2005, and while it won’t be historic it’ll still be worth seeing.