The Spectacular Red Planet 
Ten years ago today, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, thrilling back yard astronomers and creating a thus far endless series of annual misunderstandings about what Mars is actually doing.

Apparently, this is not a new problem. As with any astronomical phenomenon, archaeoastronomers spend incredible abouts of time and coffee looking for ancient accounts of famous events. While these accounts often involved much effort being spent on misguided attempts to predict the future based on the movements of stellar object, the process still required incredible amounts of observation, record keeping, and reporting.

Chinese astronomer Shen Kuo was said to have been frustrated by inaccurate science reporting in the years following the appearance of the "crab nebula" (SN 1054, or M1). "If I have to answer one more question about how a crab can travel through the heavens, I shall shave my head and enter a monastery!" he is recorded as shouting in the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of the supernova that created it. Indeed, Shen's plans to map the orbital paths of the Moon and the planets over the course of five years of daily observations was never completed due to a combination of court intrigue and what he termed "stupid questions about crabs."

Astronomers have calculated that the last time Mars would have been as close to earth as it was ten years ago. They put the date at September 24, 57,617 BCE (a Saturday). Although celestial records of this time are essentially nonexistent, a number of cave paintings estimated to be from the years following that day contain crude depictions of the night sky. In this paintings, it is not uncommon to see two circles that are significantly larger than the surrounding stars -- a light grayish circle and a similarly sized circle of mottled reds.

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