If you’ve been outside after it gets dark lately, you may have noticed the brilliant reddish star in the east. But that’s no star; it’s Mars! About every year and a half, the Earth passes Mars as they both orbit the Sun, very much like how a faster racing car on the inside track laps a slower-moving car on the outside track.
When Earth does lap Mars, the Red Planet’s on the opposite side of the sky from the Sun, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise – we say that Mars is at opposition when that happens. When it does, we get two advantages in one: it’s at its closest point, so it’s bigger in telescopes, and it’s up all night so you can observe it at your convenience. This happens next in just a few days, on January 29, 2010.
That’s why the Beauty Without Borders program has set up a Mars observing campaign, to get everyone outside and looking at Mars. If you are part of a local astronomy group, let them know about the campaign, which lasts from tonight, January 25th, through the 30th. Get folks to attend and see Mars through a telescope! It won’t be terribly big like you might see in space probe pictures, of course, but you may catch the polar ice caps, or some other features.
And when the event is done, you can report your results to the Beauty without Borders group, so they can collate them. Did you see the same things as people across the world?
I love hearing about events like this. The hardest thing to do, sometimes, is simply to get people to look up. You really should try it. Otherwise, you’re missing the entire Universe.
Tip o’ the Tharsis shield to ThilinaH.