Mars Getting Closer to Earth

Mysteries of Mars

The mysterious Red Planet is going to put on a show this month. It has been getting progressively closer to Earth each night and will continue to grow larger and brighter. By late August it will be about 191 million miles closer, and the reddish point of light will appear six times larger and shine some 85 times brighter than it normally does.

At 5:51 a.m. EDT on August 27, 2003, Mars will be within 34,646,418 miles of Earth, closer than it has been since the days of Hezekiah. (By some calculations, it will be closer than it has been in 73,000 years, but these are based on some commonly held assumptions that are suspect. It may have been closer on several occasions in the more recent past, as will be discussed below.)

On August 28, 2003, Mars will be at "opposition," the moment that the Sun, Earth, and Mars will form a straight line. Mars comes to opposition every 26 months. This time, the opposition will be superior to others because Mars will be at perihelion, its closest point to the Sun. Perihelic oppositions of Mars are rather infrequent, occurring about every 15-17 years. The last opposition, in 2001, involved a separation of more than 41 million miles. In 1995 the distance between the two planets was nearly double what it will be this month.

Though Mars' opposition will come on August 28, it will be closest to Earth on August 27. At the close approach, the Red Planet will be brighter than Jupiter and all the stars in the night sky, outshone only by Venus and the Moon.

Uniformitarianism Fallacy

Most scientists take for granted that the movements of the planets and other objects in our solar system manifest an unchanging uniformity through time. These movements, however, also manifest minute variations that have, so far, eluded any consistent conjectures.

Furthermore, careful observations of the objects in our solar system indicate that it has been-at least at times-a rather rough neighborhood. Take a look at the Moon through binoculars and you will see a lot of bruises. Or examine any of the photographs from our space probes. You see craters and other evidences of collisions and catastrophes.

There is evidence that the present orbits were not always so. And some of the changes appear to have occurred during the memory of mankind.

The Mysteries of Mars

Why did so many of the early cultures worship the Planet Mars? They were terrified of this strange planet. It was called the "God of War." Why? (The term "martial arts" is still in our working vocabulary.) And there are other mysteries that seem to be associated with this strange planet.

The 360-Day Year

All early calendars appear to be based on a 360-day calendar: the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Hebrews, Persians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Chinese, Mayans, Hindus, Carthaginians, Etruscans, and Teutons all had calendars based on a 360-day year; typically, twelve 30-day months.

In ancient Chaldea, the calendar was based on a 360-day year. It is from this Babylonian tradition that we have 360 degrees in a circle, 60 minutes to an hour, 60 seconds in each minute, etc.

The Biblical Year Is 360 Days

It is also significant that the Biblical year is also based on a 360-day year reckoning.1 This critical insight unlocks several incredible prophecies which the reader is urged to discover-- in particular, the remarkable "70 Weeks" prophecy of Daniel 9, which is undoubtedly the most amazing passage in the Bible.2

All Calendars Change in 701 B.C.

In 701 B.C., Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome, reorganized the original calendar of 360 days per year by adding five days per year. King Hezekiah, Numa's contemporary, reorganized his Jewish calendar by adding a month each Jewish leap year (on a cycle of seven every 19 years). 3

The Roman year began with March, the month named after Mars. (They later reorganized their calendar in 364 B.C. to begin on January 1st.) Most of the early cultures organized their calendars around either March or October. Why? Why was any change necessary after 701 B.C.? What happened to affect all the calendars after that year?

Mars Interferes?

The recent space age discovery of "orbital resonance"-the tendency of orbits to synchronize on a multiple of one another--has led to a fascinating conjecture that the orbits of the Earth and the Planet Mars were once on resonant orbits of 360 days and 720 days, respectively. A computer analysis has suggested that this could yield orbital interactions that would include a near pass-by on a multiple of 54 years, and this would occur on either March 25 or October 25. Such near pass-bys would transfer energy, altering the orbits of each.

In near proximity, such pass-bys would be accompanied by meteors, severe land tides, earthquakes, etc., and this would help explain why all the ancient cultures were so terrified by the Planet Mars4 and why calendars tended to reflect either March or October.5 A series of such pass-bys could also explain a number of the "catastrophes" of ancient history, including the famous "long day of Joshua" and several other Biblical episodes.6

Stability appears to have been attained during the last near pass-by in 701 B.C., resulting in Earth's and Mars' present orbits of 365 1/4 days and 687 days, respectively. Provocative, but where's the evidence?

Swift to the Rescue

This remarkable conjecture, that Mars made pass-bys near the Earth, would seem to be corroborated by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in his famous fantasy known as Gulliver's Travels. In his third voyage, Gulliver visits the land of Laputa, where the astronomers brag that they know all about the two moons of Mars.7 Their highly detailed description includes the size, the rotation, the revolutions, etc., of each of the two moons.

What makes this particular allusion so provocative is that the two moons of Mars were not discovered by astronomers until 151 years after Swift's publication of Gulliver's Travels in 1726. It was in 1877 that Asaph Hall, using a new telescope at the U.S. Naval Observatory, shocked the astronomical world by discovering the two moons of Mars.

What makes the two moons so difficult to see is that they are only about 8 miles in diameter and have an albedo (reflectivity) of only 3%. They are the darkest objects in the solar system: they are almost black. The two moons are also unique in their rotations and one of them is the only object in the solar system that orbits in reverse.8 For Swift to have "guessed" these correctly is absurd.

Yet the telescopes of his day were inadequate to have actually seen these objects. But then how could he have known what the astronomers of his day did not? Swift, in order to embroider his satirical fiction, undoubtedly drew upon ancient records he probably assumed were simply legends, not realizing that they were actually eye witness accounts of ancient sightings when Mars was close enough for the two moons of Mars to be viewed with the naked eye!

Other Implications

The possibility that the Planet Mars interacted with the Planet Earth may have implications beyond simply ancient perturbations of our calendar and the subsequent veneration of October 31 as Halloween. It has been widely noted that the ancient Stonehenge monument in England and the Great Pyramid at Cairo have astronomical implications.9 The geometric and mathematical mysteries of these fabled monuments have been the subject of much conjecture. Cairo was founded on August 5, A.D. 969 by conquering Fatimid armies and named, "Al Kahira," after Mars. Why?

And there are other enigmas.

The Nebular Hypothesis

Most of us have been taught that the planets of our solar system came out of the sun. It may come as a surprise that there are serious scientific difficulties with this presumption. In fact, a careful analysis of existing evidence suggests some surprising alternative possibilities.

Immanuel Kant, in his General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens, in 1755 in Germany, theorized that some four billion years ago, the sun had ejected a tail, or a filament, of material that cooled and collected and thus formed the planets. Kant is generally credited as the originator of what is commonly called the "Nebular Hypothesis," but the originator was actually Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).

Swedenborg wrote his treatise on cosmology in 1734, in Latin: Prodromus Philosophiae Retiocinantis de Infinito et Cause Creationis. Some 21 years before Kant's publication, Swedenborg proposed that the planets were the result of condensations of a gauze or filament ejected out of the sun. Swedenborg was a mining engineer with a wide range of interests and also claimed to have psychic powers. Historians and biographers seem to take him quite seriously and a number of public incidents caused his fellow Swedes of Stockholm to regard him as irrefutable. He claimed confirmation of his nebular hypothesis from sances with men on Jupiter, Saturn and other places more distant.

(Some 20 years earlier, in 1712, when Swedenborg was 24 years old, he had the opportunity to visit with Edmund Halley at Cambridge, who described to him the various aspects of comets and their tails. Halley had made a study of the reports of various medieval comets, their orbital trajectories, dates, and descriptions, and, of course, is famous for his predictions regarding the comet that still bears his name.)

The famous mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace (1749-1827) lent his endorsement to Kant's theory, but without checking the mathematical validations he was capable of providing. Thus, the nebular hypothesis gained widespread respectability despite serious mathematical flaws. Subsequent writers have continued to develop variations of this view even though increasing difficulties render it increasingly doubtful.

Enigmas Increase

The sun contains 99.86% of all the mass of the solar system. Yet the sun contains only 1.9% of the angular momentum. The nine planets contain 98.1%. There is no plausible explanation that would support a solar origin of the planets.

James Jeans (1877-1946) pointed out that the outer planets are far larger than the inner ones. (Jupiter is 5,750 times as massive as mercury, 2,958 times as massive as Mars, etc.)

Other observations seem to raise even more provocative enigmas concerning our planetary history:

  • There are three pairs of rapid-spin rates among our planets: Mars and Earth, Jupiter and Saturn, and Neptune and Uranus, are each within 3% of each other. Why?
  • Earth and Mars have virtually identical spin axis tilts (about 23.5). Why?
    (From angular momentum and orbital calculations, it would seem that these three pairs of planets may have been brought here from elsewhere.)
  • Why does Mars have 93% of its craters in one hemisphere and only 7% in the other? It would appear that over 80% occurred within a single half-hour!

There are other mysteries and we certainly must take most of the conjectures in the field of cosmology as simply what they are: conjectures. But the more we learn, the more we have come to take the Word of God more seriously. After all, He made them all and ought to know! But He has left the thrill of discovery to us all if we will but trust Him:

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter. - Proverbs 25:2

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. -Deuteronomy 29:29

We hope that this brief article will provide some conversation for a warm summer evening.


  1. Genesis 7:24; 8:3,4, etc. In Revelation, 42 months = 3 1/2 years = 1260 days, etc. We are indebted to Sir Robert Anderson's classic work, The Coming Prince , (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1894).
  2. This foundational passage is explained in detail in Daniel's 70 Weeks , a briefing package.
  3. The 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years are leap years, where Adar II is added. Arthur Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar , Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1986.
  4. 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3-5.
  5. Note also Isaiah 24:1, 19, 20.
  6. Donald W. Patten, Ronald R. Hatch, and Loren C. Steinhauer, The Long Day of Joshua , Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., Seattle, WA, 1973. See also our Expositional Commentary on Joshua .
  7. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels , 1726, Part III, Chapter 3.
  8. Deimos and Phobos = "Panic" and "fear" in Greek. Phobos is 1/100 width of our moon (8 miles diameter); rotates 7h39m; appears to rise in W: unique in our solar system. Deimos (30h18m) appears almost synchronous: 24h37m.
  9. Detailed in Monuments: Sacred or Profane?