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Get ready for Mars

While I’m on subjects Astronomical… don’t forget to keep an eye on Mars. On August 27/28 it will be at its’ closest approach to the Earth in recorded history. Calculations show humans have not had a Mars show this good in perhaps 50000 years. It is hard to be certain because chaos takes its’ toll when you run the solar system backwards that far.

This close approach is called an “Opposition”. It means the Earth and Mars are both in a line with the Sun and on the same side. It happens once every year when the Earth on its’ inner, faster track around the Sun catches up with the dawdling outer track Mars. The orbits of Mars and Earth are both slightly elliptical so the distance between the two varies with where the two bodies are on their elliptical paths. When Mars is at its’ closest to the Sun at the same time Earth is at its’ farthest, we have especially good views. The one coming up later this month is spectacular.

This does not mean you will see a Martian disk with your unaided eye. It does not even mean you will see views like a Hubble telescope from that cheap refractor you got for Christmas when you were aged twelve. However, if you have any amateur astronomer friends, they may be acting like giddy twelve year olds for the next two months. They will certainly be showing up at the office with bleary eyes and silly grins.

They will see detail they have never dreamed of seeing before. Of course there might be a global dust storm just after Opposition… in which case they will stare at the largest blurred reddish disk they’ve ever seen.

9 comments to Get ready for Mars

  • This does not mean you will see a Martian disk with your unaided eye. It does not even mean you will see views like a Hubble telescope from that cheap refractor you got for Christmas when you were aged twelve.

    Us poor folk can always start off with the NASA Mars photo gallery as well as the Mars Global Surveyor images. The only thing that would make these better is if they were from private companies.

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi Dale,

    Mars was so bright, last week, on the skyline, I thought it was a distant street-lamp!

    Or maybe my astronomy is so bad, these days, it was a distant street-lamp! :-)

    So what’s coming up must be a real eye-popper. Do you know of any good spots in central London, where I can get a good pair of general astronomical binoculars? If so, what make, type, etc, and what should I expect to pay?

    TIA :)

    In the last couple of years I’ve been using the ol’ unaided eye, and a copy of David Levy’s Skywatching.

    Rgds,
    AndyD

  • Dale Amon

    You’ll find a lot of useful info in the July issues of Sky and Telescope and of Astronomy Magazine. If you don’t have your own kit, perhaps the best thing to do is hunt for the nearest Astronomy club. I’d guess there must be a Planeterium in London somewhere. I’d call them and ask. Or perhaps ring the Greenwich facility which I believe is now a museum. Those folks would be a good bet on knowing how to contact the local clubs.

    There are bound to be star parties all over around the end of this month.

  • Junior

    Of course there might be a global dust storm just after Opposition…

    Wish our Opposition would raise a dust storm – even just occasionaly.

  • Ron

    Slightly closer to home…

    I remember reading a year or two ago that there was planned (?) a Japanese lunar survey orbiter that was going to progressively scan the Moon to extreme accuracy.

    I remember it being publicised because it would prove conclusively that the Americans did go to the Moon, because the abandoned Landers and Rovers would show up in considerable detail.

    Does anyone know what happened to it?

  • Dale Amon

    No, not a word. But if the Japanese need to know if the US was there, I’d be happy to see they got in touch with one of the guys who left footprints behind.

    BTW… did you know there’s perhaps only another 25 years to go before the footprints disappear? The day/night cycle causes a slow turnover of the lunar regolith. I’ve heard estimates of a 50 year lifespan for a footprint on the lunar surface.

  • Just a minor point (and a close-italics tag): Oppositions happen about every two years, not every year.

  • Dale Amon

    Mars orbits the sun roughly every two years. The Earth in one year. I neglected to factor in the extra time to catch up and “lap” Mars in the second year, when Earth has returned to the starting point but Mars is a half orbit away in Conjunction.

    Not a minor point. I know better.

  • Marty Busse

    Let’s just hope that volcanic eruptions (followed weeks later by meteoric landings near Woking, UK, and Grover’s Mill, NJ, USA) do not occur during this period.