The Night Sky: The Planet Mars

The ‘Red Planet’ can be found high in the south in April.

Attached is a picture of Mars I took February 27th of this year at the Mary Aloysia Hardey Observatory. The observatory is located at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich.

Included in the lower left of the picture is a mars map generated with the free software program WinJUPOS. The map shows how Mars looked at the time the picture was taken. Notice how the map features agree with the image taken though the telescope.

Note the north polar ice cap is seen at the top of the planet. In February it was late spring for the northern hemisphere on Mars. Martian summer began on March 30th. The north polar ice cap is tilting sunward and was already shrinking due to evaporation from increased sunlight in February. Also note the white area on the left limb of Mars caused by thin clouds. These clouds are not uncommon and were confirmed in pictures taken by other astro-photographers that night.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. It has permanent features that resemble the continents on Earth. Mars has huge volcanoes, and vast canyons. The axial tilt of Mars and a Martian day are similar to Earth. The similarities end there, as Mars is only half the size of Earth, has a very thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide, and no ozone layer. The thin atmosphere means low atmospheric pressure, so liquid water can not exist on the surface of Mars. Mars does have water ice at the poles and is thought to have ice under the surface. Mars takes about two years to orbit the sun, and has an average temperature of -80 degrees F.

Mars can be found high in the southeast after dark in the constellation Leo. It looks like an orange ‘star’ because of high iron content on its surface. Mars can be a tough planet to view in a telescope. It is small, and it has an elliptical orbit that can, at times, keep it far from Earth. Sadly, that is the case with this close approach. Still, for the next month or so Mars should look interesting in the telescope. Come to the Bowman Observatory public viewing nights (second and fourth Tuesdays) at Julian Curtiss School and have a look for yourself.

Starry Nights!

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Rick Bria April 23, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Thanks Henry
Rick Bria April 23, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Alex, Thank you... Sometimes 3 people sometimes 30. It all depends on the weather... what's up in the sky... we just never know what to expect at the Bowman Observatory. Not sure where you have to drive from, but I say if you haven't looked through a big telescope you should stop by this Tuesday, the 24th. WEATHER PERMITTING. Rick
Rick Bria April 23, 2012 at 02:26 AM
You can always visit an observatory, or join a local Astronomy club. Rick
Rick Bria April 23, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Me too... Even with the probes we sent to Mars, it is still a place of mystery. Thanks, Rick
Alex April 24, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Not a bad crowd at all. I'd be driving from Monroe, so round trip it's probably over an hour. Won't be able to drive down tonight =/ but Perhaps May 8th will be a good night to see the sky! I've been wanting to see a real telescope for awhile now and this sounds like a great opportunity to do so.


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