More Moon and Mars

StarDate: March 25, 2010

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Hollywood loves the planet Mars. Movie studios have churned out dozens of movies about the Red Planet -- from classics like "War of the Worlds" to dreck like "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." Some of them are great, some are unwatchable, but they all capitalize on our fascination with that glowing orange light in the night sky.

Mars first came to the big screen 100 years ago, in a four-minute movie produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company.

Thomas Edison got into the movie business about two decades earlier. His company created motion picture cameras and projectors, and released its first film in the early 1890s.

Over the next few years, the company released hundreds of short films, including more than 60 in 1910.

One of those was "A Trip to Mars," which premiered in February. The plot was sort of "Wizard of Oz" meets "Flubber." When a professor mixes two chemicals together, it counteracts the pull of gravity and propels him all the way to Mars. He stumbles upon a giant Martian creature, which blows him into the air over and over again, until he winds up back on Earth.

Okay, like many Mars movies, the plot wasn't much, and neither was the science. But it was the first attempt to transport audiences to the Red Planet Mars -- through the magic of the movies.

You can see the real planet tonight. It's to the upper right of the Moon at nightfall -- a glowing orange light that often finds its name in lights.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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