Mars ~ Does Size Matter?

Have you heard that Mars will "look as large as the full moon to the naked eye"? This grandiose claim goes around every couple of years, but is it true? Does Mars look spectacular in the sky when it's retrograde? Well, yes and no...

August 2005. The big news arrives in my inbox!!

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! 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.

...The encounter will culminate on August 27th

...Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye...

...Share this with your children and grandchildren.


Is any of this really true?? Or is this a hoax? Will Mars be spectacular in August 2005?

Separating Fact From Fiction

Let's start with what's NOT true.

Some parts of this circulating email are quite exaggerated. For starters, we will never see Mars "as large as the Full Moon to the naked eye" unless Mars comes close enough to crash into the Earth. (No, that's NOT going to happen.) It's just too far away, even at its closest distance.

Some versions of this email add that Mars will appear this large "through a telescope," which is more believable. But with our love of breathtaking buzz, it's the "spectacular" that we remember. And how many of us have firsthand experience using telescope? Probably not many...although this fall might be a great time to check out Mars through a telescope!

So what's the real scoop?

There was indeed a time in recent history when Mars appeared unusually bright in the sky, and that's when this email message dates back to. In August 2003, Mars came quite a bit closer to the Earth than it normally does. At that time, Mars came closest to the Earth (called "perigee") on August 27, 2003.

And yes, Mars did look brighter and larger than usual—not Full-Moon larger, but enough that people with a trained eye were very excited about it. But unless you watched the planetary traffic on a regular basis and knew what to compare it to, you might not have even noticed it.

Is it true that Mars will not come this close until 2287? Technically, yes. However, that doesn't mean Mars won't appear bright and passionate red sometimes between now and then. Mars will still travel across the skies as usual, sometimes a little dimmer, sometimes a little brighter, at various times.

The Earth-Mars Dance

Why does Mars come so close to the Earth only once in a while? It has to do with the fact that planets don't orbit the Sun in a precise circle. Their orbits are more oval-shaped, and the Sun is never in the exact centre. As a result, planets are sometimes closer and sometimes farther away from the Sun, and therefore from each other. The orbits of any two planets will sometimes bring them especially close to each other, and sometimes farther away. It's the rhythm of their orbital cycles that does this.

Mars Retrograde orbit with the EarthThe unusually close line-up of Earth and Mars in August 2003. Earth was at aphelion (farthest from the Sun). Mars at perihelion (nearest to the Sun) and perigee (nearest to the Earth).

In 2003, Mars was at its usual closest pass to the Sun (called perihelion), and the Earth was at its farthest distance from the Sun (aphelion). Plus, Mars and the Earth also happened to be aligned on the same side of the Sun. This brought Mars and Earth to their closest rendezvous (called perigee), which happens every 2 years or so. However, the particular alignments of Mars' and Earth's orbits in 2003 made this perigee a remarkably close one!

When this occurred, it was during Mars' last retrograde period: July 29 to September 27, 2003. When the Earth and any other planet are at their shortest distance to each other (perigee), that planet is always in retrograde from our perspective. Mars will be in retrograde again this Fall: October 1 to December 9, 2005. I imagine that's why that old email is being circulated again.

Is the 2005 sighting of Mars something you should "share with your children and grandchildren?" Of course! Any awareness of the night sky is something to be cherished and enjoyed and shared with the people you love, especially little ones who are still discovering the world around them. Will it be so spectacular that they'll tell their children about it? Probably not, but don't let that stop you!

Stalking the Wilde Mars

So what's the big deal about seeing Mars anyway? Planets travel through the sky all the time, right? Again: yes and no. We see Mars only some of the time: when it happens to be on the same side of the Sun as the Earth. When this happens, we are able to see it in our night sky. This also corresponds to the Mars retrograde cycle, although Mars is visible for quite a long time before and after the actual retrograde period.

The period for viewing Mars in 2005 is from around May 2005 until about half way into 2006. Mars turns retrograde on October 1, 2005, but it has been visible since around May 2005. At that time, Mars began to rise in the eastern sky just before sunrise. Mars makes its appearance earlier in the night throughout 2005, so you won't always have to be a dedicated night owl to catch a view of it. Mars rides high in the southern sky (or northern sky, if you're south of the equator) throughout the night, until it sets or the Sun rises, whichever comes first.

As I write this in mid-September 2005, Mars rises roughly between 9:30 and 10:30 PM, local time (wherever you are in the world). By the time Mars makes the retrograde station on October 1, it will rise at approximately 8:30-9:30 PM, local time. The Sun-Mars opposition takes place November 7, 2005 when the Sun, Earth and Mars form a straight line with Earth in the middle. This marks the half-way point of the retrograde period and also brings Mars to perigee.

Shortly after the opposition in November, we will be able to see Mars already up in the sky when it darkens after sunset, starting high in the southeast sky (or northeast if you're below the equator). Mars' position at sunset will edge further west, until it appears only briefly on the western horizon just after sunset (around August 2006). Then we won't see Mars again until early 2007, as it passes out of our vision around the other side of the Sun.

The best time for viewing Mars during this retrograde cycle will be in October and November 2005. This is when Mars is closest to the Earth, peaking in early November. But remember that it is visible for several months before and after this time, just not quite as brilliant. Look for an unwavering, quite bright "star" (but not twinkling) that has a reddish tinge. Unfortunately it won't be as brilliant as it was in 2003, but it will still put on a show for us!

Mars Battles the Bull

So what does all this mean astrologically? Mars is in the sign of Taurus, the Bull, during this retrograde cycle. This combination is a mixed bag of challenges and blessings. Mars brings to Taurus the drive to go after what it wants, and what Taurus typically wants is money, income, possessions, material security, value, order, tranquility and sensual pleasures (like food!).

Taurus seeks to make things concrete, tangible and manifest. Combined with the ambition and enthusiasm of Mars, an enormous amount of progress can be made toward your goals while Mars is in Taurus.

However, impulsive Mars is not entirely happy about being in the Fixed Earth sign of Taurus. Being the opposite sign of one of its ruling signs (Scorpio), Mars is in its "detriment" in Taurus, meaning that it has a hard time expressing its true nature.

Mars normally wants to go fast: Taurus likes to go slow. Mars enjoys the hunt, the pursuit: Taurus prefers the rewards and the steadily paced journey. Mars is about anger and assertiveness: Taurus is about tranquility and harmony. Mars likes excitement and adventure: Taurus seeks stability and serenity. It's not an easy marriage!

The Substance of Self

Taurus is also about what we "have." It is the resources and assets we have to draw on—inner and outer, tangible and intangible, although we often associate these with tangible items rather than intangible wealth. The intangible part of what we "have" is our sense of self and self-worth, the "substance" of who we are. This also includes our talents and abilities, our support network, and the life skills and lessons we have gathered that give us inner resources to draw from.

The trap of Taurus is to believe that our self-worth is equal to our tangible worth. If we have less material substance than we think we "should" have, we believe that this is a reflection of our personal worth and we may feel "worth-less." This, of course, is absurd. It's a damaging myth, but a very seductive one that is easy to buy into, in materialistic western culture.

Mars in Taurus, especially when retrograde, can aggravate our experience and sensitivity to this myth. If we believe we must work hard to acquire material wealth in order to prove our self-worth, then Mars in Taurus can magnify our fear of inadequacy and turn us into workaholics to compensate.

We may become obsessed with accumulation of material wealth, at the price of neglecting or overlooking our true inner substance that money can't buy. As we pursue material worth to bolster our self-worth, this displaced effort may wind up eroding our sense of self more than strengthening it. We can easily burn out and not be able to appreciate our material abundance when we get it. And our true inner substance remains invisible and elusive, other than as an extension of external "things."

Balancing Inner and Outer Worth

Of course, it's a lot easier to talk about material wealth not being important if we already have some of it. To someone who lives in poverty or has suffered a great material loss, the lack of financial prosperity can be a constant ache that drowns out the enjoyment of the non-material treasures in life.

However, obsession is obsession, no matter what our financial status is. Taurus' lesson is ultimately that every one of us is worthy, precious and valuable, regardless of how much property we have to show for it. And it is important to enjoy and cultivate the substance of who we are, as much as the material substance that we strive to accumulate. Balance is the key. If we lack a foundation of inner substance and self-worth, all the external wealth in the world will not make up for it.

There can be a fine line between taking advantage of Mars' energetic pursuit of what we want to "have," versus driving ourselves into the ground trying to bolster our self-esteem and security through "things." It's good to be aware of this trap while Mars takes us on a roundabout tour through Taurus' world of material acquisition and values.

Making It Work

Mars tends to do well in Earth signs in spite of itself. Mars is like a wild horse that prefers to be free, but can accomplish great things when it submits to a yoke and harness. When that intense energy is channelled toward a concrete goal, there is potential for enormous achievement.

However, it can take some time and effort for Mars to get comfortable in Taurus—which is fine with unhurried Taurus but very frustrating for Mars. It can be tempting for Mars to fall into apathy and laziness out of discouragement or boredom. Or, it may rebel against (what feels like) imposed discipline and finally explode in frustration. Mars in Taurus tends to be slow to anger, but once it's there, watch out! And with Mars going retrograde in Taurus, the frustration factor could become a substantial issue.

The Taurus side of this combination will want to spend the retrograde phase steadily planning and building a foundation for later action. The Mars side of this recipe is easily bored, impatiently wanting to explore other adventures when the current one hits a roadblock or requires tedious preparation.

Fire/Air or Earth/Water

Which of these sides will dominate in your life during Mars retrograde largely depends on how you're wired, which is reflected in your natal chart.

Fire/Air (Aries-Leo-Sagittarius / Gemini-Libra-Aquarius)

As a general rule of thumb, if your Mars is in a Fire or Air sign, or if your Sun or Moon is in a Fire or Air sign (or otherwise strong in those elements), the impatience of Mars is probably going to be strong for you during this cycle. It may not be easy to buckle down to hard work, or to conjure the persistence necessary to stay on track with whatever goal you're trying to reach. Discipline and perseverance will likely require conscious effort and choice to stay on track, which might not come easily. And you might have to sprint off the path occasionally just to keep yourself sane!

It's also possible you might feel a bit discouraged or depressed, if you start to lose sight of your destination or feel it has fallen out of reach. Keep in mind that Mars will not always be retrograde, and that any delays or second thoughts you're feeling are all part of the process designed to refine and hone your pursuit into a leaner, meaner machine. If you wind up changing your direction or destination, that's part of the process too.

Earth/Water (Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn / Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces)

On the other hand, if your Mars is in an Earth or Water sign, or if these elements are strong in your natal chart, it may be a little easier for you to stay the course and do what's necessary to get where you want to go. Coping with delays and having to reconsider your plans during the retrograde will probably be more easily tolerated, though not without its challenges.

If anything, you might find the danger lies in getting stuck in the planning, researching and preparation stage. It might feel like your destination has become too distant, with all the detours, delays and re-evaluation that may be necessary. The preparation stage can start to seem like an end in itself that you must "settle for," instead of a stepping stone in a longer journey. It can be tempting to get discouraged and lose sight of your ultimate goal and the reasons why you're doing it all in the first place.

Staying On Track

Whatever your elemental emphasis, it will help to leave some breadcrumbs along the retrograde path, so that you can find your way back when you wander too far off the trail. Share your vision with a friend, who can remind you of why you're doing it all. Write down your passion. Define your goals as clearly as possible and why you want to achieve them.

Read your goal plan whenever you're feeling discouraged or frustrated, to help you get re-centered. Remember that the path to any destination is almost never a straight line, but twists and turns continually—and this is normal! If you seem to get farther away from your target sometimes, it's may just be a normal part of the journey or you might need to backtrack along the breadcrumbs a ways.

Patience and persistence are valuable resources during any Mars retrograde. With this cycle taking place in slow, steady Taurus, these qualities are not only important but also plentiful and available for the asking.

2005 Mars Retrograde ~ Important Dates

August 13, 2005 Mars enters the Shadow Pre-retrograde Shadow phase begins.
October 1, 2005 Mars stationary retrograde Retrograde period begins.
December 9, 2005 Mars stationary direct Retrograde ends. Post-retrograde phase begins.
February 3, 2006 Mars leaves the Shadow Post-retrograde Shadow phase ends.

August 13, 2005 ~ Mars enters the Shadow

Pre-retrograde Shadow begins

From now until the retrograde station, themes that arise now will repeat in various ways until the end of the cycle. These themes may involve force, power, assertiveness and courage. They may also involve pursuit of money and possessions, material security, use of resources, your approach to the whole concept of abundance, and examination of how you judge your own self-worth. Pleasure, sensuality and/or sexuality may also require deeper exploration, perhaps requiring you to slow down and enjoy the journey instead of just rushing impulsively toward the end result.

October 1, 2005 ~ Mars stations retrograde

Retrograde period begins

During this phase, forward movement in areas of your life where you had been making progress may seem to slow down or stop for a while. It may be necessary to go back, pick up lost threads, and reclaim something that was left behind in the initial planning or development. Or, maybe you need to take a break to recharge your batteries and catch your breath, which can give you a new perspective and reconnect you to an inner sense of self-worth.

You'll probably find this works best if you allow the backwash of the retrograde undercurrent to carry you where it wants to take you, to some extent, even if it seems to take you away from your chosen destination. Don't be tempted to give up on your goals if this happens, unless you see clear reasons why they're just not workable. And even then, it's best not to jump to conclusions or take action prematurely, unless you're in crisis. This evolving process takes place over several months, so don't expect to find the final answer right away. Allow the journey to unfold...and you with it! Trust the process and listen to your intuition.

December 9, 2005 ~ Mars stations direct

Retrograde ends and Post-retrograde Shadow begins

From now until the end of the cycle, you will be able to put what you've discovered into practice. You might be seeing your original destination through new eyes. Or, you might have taken a detour off the main road, which has given you a resource or piece of the puzzle you didn't even know you needed. Now is the time to start moving forward again, taking into account the new perspective and resources you have gained. That forward motion will likely be slow getting up to full speed, initially, so again: don't be discouraged if it doesn't fall into place instantly. The direct station can often be a time of decision, when issues that you've been struggling with and their resolution become clear.

February 3, 2006 ~ Mars leaves the Shadow

Post-retrograde Shadow ends

It can be helpful to look back over the last six months and see how all these issues have changed in your life. What resources do you have now, that you didn't have before? How are your current life direction and chosen destination different from what they were six months ago? Or, have you discovered different reasons or a deeper conviction for wanting to continue with the same goals? What happened to change your perspective...or to reinforce it? This is a good time to process what the Mars retrograde cycle has brought to your life and how it has changed you.

Aspects Made by Mars During this Retrograde Cycle

The geometric aspects that Mars makes to other planets throughout its retrograde cycle will steer and influence the process. For more information about these aspects, look up the terms in the Glossary.

Mars square Saturn: 31-Jul-05, 18-Nov-05, 27-Dec-05.

This transit can feel like you're harnessing that wild horse: the horse (Mars) may not like it, but it can achieve so much more when its power is controlled and channelled (Saturn). In the same way, the energy that is released throughout the Mars retrograde cycle can be harnessed through hard work and restraint, and put into productive use. The first pass of this threefold aspect actually began before Mars entered the Shadow, indicating that there are themes that come alive during the retrograde cycle that began at the end of July. The events of that time laid the foundation for what happens later during the rest of the cycle.

Mars opposite Jupiter: 25-Jun-05, 4-Dec-05, 15-Jan-06.

Inspired action and/or overconfidence. Energy, anger, libido, and ability to take action are amplified. Be careful not to push yourself beyond what is realistic. Find the fine line that lets you tell the difference between desire and inspiration; between will power and faith; between righteous anger and arrogant pride. Be aware of both your ego's desires and your spiritual aspirations. As with Mars square Saturn, this theme had its beginnings in June.

Mars square Neptune: 28-Aug-05, 07-Nov-05, 18-Jan-06.

Confused motives. Ambiguous action. Conflict between primal impulses/drives and spiritual ideals. Difficulty knowing how to assert yourself. Taking action that is inspired by a sense of mission or higher purpose. Struggle with feeling insignificant or feeling like you're spinning your wheels.

Mars quincunx Jupiter: 12-Sep-05, 21-Sep-05, 24-May-06.

Wrestling with the paradox of being damned if you do and damned if you don't give in to either side of will-power versus faith, anger versus pride, and desire versus inspiration. Frustration about how to pursue your ambitions and act on your instincts without overestimating your ability to do that or overstepping your bounds in doing so.

Mars trine Sun: 13-Sep-05, 01-Jan-06.

The trines take place just before and after the Mars retrograde period. They bring into focus the inspiration and passion that fuel the retrograde's inner process of change, release and transformation. It can be a time of empowerment, action and clarity of purpose.

Mars quincunx Pluto: 17-Sep-05, 13-Oct-05, 09-Feb-06.

Struggle between taking deliberate action and the deeper/darker implications of those actions. Issue of how to embrace your power without either going overboard or giving up.

Mars opposite Sun: 07-Nov-05.

This marks the half-way point of the retrograde cycle. The depth of your ego's identity may be brought out and projected onto the world. This could manifest as creative expression; or release of anger, aggression or assertiveness; or projecting your aggression or power onto someone else and letting them act it out for you.


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