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AAAA News and Activities - 2003

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The Mars Year - 2003
Mars Day on TV - KTVT CBS Channel 11, Dallas
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Wired News: Spending Green to See Red Planet
Annular Eclipse - May 31, 2003
Lunar Eclipse - May 15, 2003
Transit of Mercury - May 7, 2003
Mid-America Astrophysics Conference

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Mars Opposition - 2005

During the autumn of 2005, Mars will be just as bright as it was during the opposition of 2003, but, this year, the time frame is shifted to October.

Mars will be rising in the east around midnight during July and August. By October, it will be rising at sunset. Once above the horizon, it will be the brightest object in the sky, a bright red-orange "star". It will be brighter in a pair of binoculars, but you will need a telescope to see any detail.

Mars Opposition will be in early November, which means it will be directly overhead at midnight, local time, on November 7.

The Mars Year - 2003

During August 2003, Mars, the Red Planet, will be closer to Earth than it has ever been before in recorded history. On the date of closest approach, August 28, 2003, Mars will be only 55.8 million kilometers from Earth, little more than 1/3 of an Astronomical Unit (AU). An astronomical unit is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, about 165 million kilometers. This will be the closest together Mars and Earth have been in the last 100,000 years!

Oppositions of Mars 1988-2003


This chart by C.F. Chapin shows the relative positions of Mars and Earth for the years 1988 to 2003. The last great opposition of Mars was 1988. On August 28, 2003, Mars will be at its closest approach to Earth in recorded history, at a distance of only 34,646,418 miles.
Click on image for enlarged view

A Great Event to Observe

While the orbit of Earth around the Sun is very nearly circular, the orbit of Mars is not. During opposition, when the Earth and Mars lie in line with the Sun, the distance between the two planets varies considerably from year to year depending on Mars’ position in its orbit. If Mars comes to opposition when it is farthest from the Sun (at aphelion), it will lie 61 million miles from Earth. But if Mars reaches opposition when it is closest to the Sun (at perihelion), it will lie only 34.6 million miles from Earth. Perihelic oppositions occur every fifteen to seventeen years. In August and September 2003, Mars will reach perihelic opposition again.

Because of the way Mars’ orbit is located in space, the very closest oppositions occur when we see Mars against the stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius, the southernmost constellations on the ecliptic. Thus, the best oppositions occur when Mars is too far south for good viewing in the Northern Hemisphere. This is what happened in 1988: the opposition was very close, but Mars was low in the sky in the northern hemisphere. But in 2003, Mars will be higher up, the light from Mars will reach us via a shorter path through Earth’s atmosphere, and we will have a better, sharper view of the planet during the current opposition.

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Opposition Timetable
Finding Mars
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AAAA Mars Card

Mars is the fourth planet of the Solar System. Oxidized crystalline rocks on the surface of Mars give it it's tinged blood-red color. Ares was the Greek God of War. Named Mars by the Romans, the god enjoyed the portfolio of both War and Agriculture. So important was Mars to the Romans that the first month of the Roman year, March, was named after him. The two moons of Mars are named after his two sons, Phobos and Deimos (Fear & Panic). The only other object so red in the night sky is a red star in the constellation Scorpius that the ancients named Antares (Anti-Ares). In India, Mangal (Mars) represents anger, aggression, ambition, courage, and roguery. A Hindu marriage is not complete without the Mangal sutra, a necklace made from blood red corals.

 NASA Photo Mars 2001.


AAAA Mars Card

The AAAA Mars Card is a concise way to learn the essential information about Mars during the current favorable opposition in August and September 2003. Just click on either image to down load our PDF, print it off, and make copies for yourself and to hand out at your own Mars Observing Events for friends and the general public!
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Don't have time to make copies? Let us do the work for you. We will make copies at $10 per 100 postpaid, as many as you want, and send them to you via USPS Mail! Order online through CCNow, our Online Retailer. Canadian and overseas orders additional postage.

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Planning for the Public

In planning any special Mars observing activities for the general public or the media, keep in mind that in late August when Mars is closest (diameter about 25 arc sec), it will only rise about 30 degrees above the horizon at midnight ... so not good for "early evening" observing. However, this situation improves through September: at end of September, Mars will still be over 20 arc sec. in diameter, but will cross the meridian (a bit more than 30 degrees high) earlier ... about 9:30PM. This placement is somewhat better for public programs.

As always, there is the danger of planet-wide dust storms at this perihelion. Storm activity on Mars will easily wipe out any surface features otherwise visible.

The Planetary Society has proclaimed August 27, 2003, the date of opposition, as "Mars Day". The Planetary Society has a goal of "half of the world's population looking at, or thinking about, Mars" on Mars day. So please circle this day on your calendar. Now is the time to start planning Mars Parties in your local area.



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