WSW: Mars Viewed In The Sky And In History

Jul 19, 2018

Mars viewed through the Hubble Telescope in 2003
Credit NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Kalamazoo Astronomical Society President Richard Bell says the weather on Earth can get in the way of observing Mars, but he says dust storms on the Red Planet could also impair the view.

MarsWatch 2018 is being presented by the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society Friday July 27th and Saturday July 28th. It begins both nights at 8:00p.m. at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. On Friday night, Dave DeBruyn, retired Chief Curator of the Roger B. Chafee Planetarium at the Grand Rapids Public Museum will discuss exploration of Mars. On Saturday night, Bell, who is also an astronomy instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, will present the history of Mars observations. Bell says if the weather allows, they will also view Mars through telescopes both nights.

Right now is a good time to look at Mars. The view of Mars gets better every 26 months when Mars is at opposition with the Sun. Bell says this is a rare time when the Earth and Mars are in what is known as “perihelic opposition.” This happens every 15 to 17 years when the planets move closer together because of their different orbital patterns around the Sun. Bell says the last time it happened in 2003 was historic because the Earth and Mars were closer than they had been for 60,000 years. But he says the view this year should be similar to what could be seen 15 years ago.

Bell says Mars the best times to view Mars are at 10:00 or 11:00 at night in the Southeast Sky. It can be seen due South between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. Bell says there should be great views of Mars at least through the end of August, and possibly into early September.

Regarding the history of Mars exploration, Bell says Galileo was the first to view Mars through telescope, but he just saw “a little disc.” Bell says as telescopes got better, surface features could be seen and more was learned about Mars. Bell says an Italian astronomer viewed linear features on Mars surface. A misunderstanding with translation helped create the idea that canals were being used to transport water. Bell says that helped create fear of a Martian invasion. But he says the first true exploration of Mars helped show that the idea of canals on Mars was a myth.

The next opposition in 26 months will bring another good view of Mars. But it will be September of 2035 before the next perihelic opposition when Mars gets this close to Earth again.

Image from Wikimedia Commons