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AAAA News and Activities 2003

The Mars Year - 2003
Mars Day on TV - KTVT CBS Channel 11, Dallas
Welcome to Wired News
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

The Mars Year - 2003
Mars Day on TV - KTVT CBS Channel 11, Dallas
Welcome to Wired News
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

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.

Finding Mars

Mars can be found in the constellation Aquarius on August 27, 2003, at 09:52 UT, the moment of closest approach. Note that Uranus is also in Aquarius, and that Neptune is just next door in Capricorn.  Chart from Sky Map Pro 5.0. Click on image for enlarged view.

In 2003 Mars will reach opposition in the constellation Aquarius near the celestial equator. At opposition, Mars will shine as a brilliant yellow-orange beacon in the sky. Through a telescope, Mars will at first present only a shimmering yellow-orange disk. To the visual observer viewing it at 80x magnification, Mars will appear as large as the Full Moon viewed with the naked eye. Mars is then 25 arc-seconds in diameter. To place this in perspective, this is the angular diameter of a basketball one mile away.

Your first views of Mars will not be exciting. If you begin observing in May and June while the disk of the planet is still small, you may not see any surface detail at all. Don’t give up.

As Mars comes closer to Earth during the early mornings of July and August, the disk will grow dramatically in size and move higher in the sky. During the time when the disk is still small, you must train your “observing eye” to detect the delicate contrasts of the planet, so when Mars nears its maximum size at opposition, you will be ready.

Under excellent seeing conditions, a 4-inch telescope should give a sharp image at 200x; an 8-inch may be able to handle magnifications as high as 400x. Generally the best and sharpest views will be at medium-high magnifications of 30x to 40x per inch of aperture or 240x to 320x for an 8-inch telescope. But on nights when the air is still and calm, magnifications of 50x per inch of aperture may prove useful if your telescope has good optics.

In a 4-inch telescope you’ll be able to see large surface features, bright clouds, limb brightenings that occur when there’s a lot of haze in the Martian atmosphere, large dust storms, the expansion or shrinkage of the polar caps, and “violet clearings” that occur when the Martian atmosphere becomes unusually clear to violet light. Because of the limited resolution of a 4-inch telescope, you’ll be able to see these features for only about ten weeks on either side of opposition while Mars is nearby and large.

With a 6- to 10-inch telescope you will be able to follow the same features for twelve to fourteen weeks on either side of opposition, and near opposition you will be able to see smaller clouds and dark features than you could with a 4-inch telescope. You can follow the advance and retreat of the polar caps in fine detail and check for irregularities in the polar cap boundary. You can also watch for changes in the shape and extent of the Martian surface features. Change may occur after major dust storms.

A telescope of 12 inches or more of aperture can make any of the features easier to see and increase the quality of your observations. You will also be able to check for subtle changes in the color of surface features and clouds. One of the most valuable contributions you can make with a larger telescope is a uniform series of high-resolution photographs or CCD images of the planet in color or in black and white.

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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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.

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

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