But now I found myself become a meteorite, or more correctly a meteoroid, that is to say, a true space wanderer loosed from one world and not yet landed on another. Sixteen million years of seemingly aimless rambling brought me ... to Earth

From "The Planets" by Dava Sobel

Mars, popularly known as the red planet, now appears shiny gold to the naked eye from sunset until dawn. It rises in the east and traces a southerly arc all night before setting in the west.

Mars is approaching opposition from the sun and its brightest apparition since 2007. On Tuesday, April 8, our neighbor planet will be opposite the sun from our vantage point on Earth: Mars, Earth and Sun will line up. We can participate in this event, which is nearly in effect already, by watching the sunset in the west as brilliant Mars rises in the east. Sunset is at 7:21 this evening while Mars rises at 7:37. On the 8th, the red planet will rise at 7:14, sunset will be at 7:26.

Mars is the fourth planet out from the sun, half the size of Earth, and most like our planet when compared with the other seven in our solar system. It will be closest to us on Monday the 14th, making for the best telescopic observations this year.

Scientists have been sending instruments to, and gathering information about, the iron-rich planet for decades, most recently landing the rover Curiosity on Mars in 2012. Nonetheless, one of the most engaging stories of scientific discovery is about a meteorite the size of a baseball collected in Antarctica in 1984. In her book, "The Planets," Dava Sobel speaks in the voice of the 4.5 billion-year-old Martian rock that contains evidence of the possibility of life.

Catch Mars' brightest two weeks: Make this a Martian fortnight -- and then some.

To contact Judy Isacoff go to: www.naturesturn.org