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An opportunity to view Mars during its closest approach to Earth in the last 60,000 years will be offered by Colby College and Northern Stars Planetarium on Tuesday, August 26, at Colby’s Collins Observatory. The viewing will be held from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Collins Observatory, adjacent to Coombs Baseball Field on the Colby campus in Waterville. The event is open to the public and free of charge. The public is asked to park in the Harold Alfond Athletic Center parking lot, across the street from the observatory.
Murray Campbell, professor of physics and astronomy at Colby, and John Meader, of Northern Stars Planetarium in Fairfield, will conduct the observing program with a variety of telescopes. In case of rain or cloudy skies the event will be rescheduled for August 27, 28 or 29. The public may call 207-872-3251 for a recorded message on possible rescheduling.
Mars is closer to the Earth than any time in the past 60,000 years. It will not get this close for another 284 years. When sky conditions are optimum it is possible to see the Martian polar caps, bright red highlands and dark plains of lava with specialized telescopes. Occasionally large dust storms obscure parts of the planet.
Eyepiece views in the Colby and Northern Stars Planetarium telescopes may show the Martian South Polar Ice Cap and larges features if the sky is clear and stable and if the cap has not shrunk as the Martian southern hemisphere summer progresses. The telescopes on hand from Colby and Northern Stars Planetarium are designed for observing star clusters and nebulae and are not optimized for observing planets. Telescopes designed for observing planets are specialized to give large images but are difficult to use for observing stars and nebulae. Mars is too bright to use Colby’s sensitive CCD electronic cameras.
Images made with specialized telescopes and additional information are available on the International MarsWatch Web site at elvis.rowan.edu/marswatch.
The Mars viewing event is partially funded by the Colby/Howard Hughes Medical Institute Partnership for Science Education.