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Weekend Lineup

February 26, 2010

The Moon shoots the gap between Mars and the heart of the lion tonight. Over the weekend, it'll pass the lion and take aim at the planet Saturn.

As darkness falls tonight, bright orange Mars stands above the Moon. Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, is about the same distance to the lower left of the Moon. Golden Saturn rises an hour or two later, well below the other three.

Even though the Moon is our closest neighbor, it's not the one with the most visitors from Earth right now -- Mars is. As of early this year, three spacecraft were studying the planet from orbit, with two rovers on the surface.

They're part of a big push by NASA and other space agencies to understand the planet's history and look for liquid or frozen water. The studies will help us understand whether conditions were ever warm and wet enough for life, and whether microscopic organisms could still be living there today.

There's been a push to look for water on the Moon, too. No one expects to find life there, but the water could sustain life in the future. Long-term lunar colonists could not only drink the water, they could use it to make rocket fuel, as well as oxygen for breathing.

And several spacecraft have indeed discovered frozen water on the Moon. A craft dug up some ice when it slammed into a shadowy crater last year. And another craft has found water mixed with the lunar dirt -- a welcome resource for future lunar visitors.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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