Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Mars Didn't Fall Short

Mars Didn't Fall Short
by Dave Adalian

As the whole world watched last month, Mars swung closer to Earth than ever in recorded history. It was quite the event.

Observatories all over were awash in a sea of visitors eager for a glimpse of the Red Planet as it passed. The Purcell Observatory in Tulare was certainly no exception, as record numbers turned up for a gander through the telescopes.

Mars didn’t disappoint. It might even have been showing off some. I’ve certainly never seen it look better. Neither has anyone else.

Unfortunately, those who didn’t see Mars at its absolute best in August won’t get another chance for 284 years.

Good news though: The 2003 show isn’t over!

Mars is still looking very good. A peek at it through a telescope this week won’t be rivaled until 2018. Members of the Tulare Astronomical Association will host a public star party Sept. 26, free of charge as always.

Those who don’t have a scope and can’t make the party should try taking in the many sights that need no optics during this season of summer’s retreat.

Mars is still a naked-eye beauty, already riding high in the southeast as the Sun sets. As the days pass and Mars moves away, watch carefully to notice its yellow-red glow grow dimmer night by night. On the nights of Oct. 5 and 6, it will be joined by the nearly full Hunters Moon.
After sunset at this time of year is when three bright stars--Vega, Deneb and Altair--sit straight overhead at the top of the sky. These stars form the Summer Triangle, a figure which surrounds a bright patch of Milky Way glow visible from here in town when the neighbors’ lights are low and the Moon is down.

Around an hour before midnight and earlier each night, the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades sparkle to the east. To see more than six of these young, hot blue-white stars in Taurus will require a trip into the countryside.

By midnight the first stars of Orion the Hunter rise in the east, and by 2 a.m. the familiar winter constellation is well above the horizon. To the left of Orion’s famous red star Betelgeuse is another bright point of light, one that unlike other stars doesn’t twinkle. This is Saturn.
Watch Saturn rise earlier and climb higher as the fall nights grow longer and the cold begins to linger.

Clear skies.


This column originally appeared in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta on Sept. 23, 2003.