Mars

Public Domain (CC0)

A clear evening in late August offers much to contemplate, both near, relatively speaking astronomically, and far.

If you look to the east after sunset, you will notice a bright, reddish-orange object.  This is the planet Mars, 4th rock from the Sun.  Less than one month ago, Mars was at opposition.  This means that it is directly opposite from the Sun, as we view it.  This also means that it is very bright, because it is reflecting light directly back to us.  Opposition is the planetary equivalent of a full moon. 

The diameter of Mars is about 4200 miles, compared to Earth’s diameter of about 8,000 miles and its mass is just 11% of Earth’s.  On May 30, Mars was 47 million miles from Earth.

  What’s that brilliant, orange “star” rising in the southeast after twilight ends?  It’s actually not a star, but the planet Mars, which is now nearing Earth for its closest encounter since year 2005.  

Climate change isn't just something to worry about here on Earth. New research published today shows that Mars has undergone a dramatic climate shift in the past that has rendered much of the planet inhospitable to life.

About 3.8 billion years ago, Mars was a reasonably pleasant place. It had a thick atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide that kept it warm. Rivers trickled into lakes across its surface. Some researchers think there might even have been an ocean.

2015 is a banner year for solar system exploration.  Although the European Venus Express Mission and NASA’s Messenger Mission to Mercury are ending, other missions will be gearing up in 2015.  NASA’s New Horizons probe will fly by Pluto in July, and in March, another NASA probe, called Dawn, will enter orbit around Ceres, the l

Venus, Mars, and a thin crescent Moon will create a stunning sight in our early evening sky on February 20.  If skies are clear, find an open spot with an unobstructed horizon and look to the west between 6:15 and 7:00 p.m.   At first you may see brilliant Venus next to a thin, crescent Moon.  As twilight fades, fainter Mars will appear between Venus and the Moon.  Use binoculars for a truly amazing view!        

This Sunday night, we headed back to Mars: NASA's MAVEN spacecraft fired its six main engines, slowing down enough so it could be captured by the gravity of the red planet and go into orbit.

MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, is a distinctly un-sexy name for a project as cool as a sojourn to Mars. But whatever it's called, the probe is on a mission that should be of interest to everyone who likes living on Earth.

Mars At Opposition

Astronomers use a number of curious words to describe the planets in their orbits, for example, quadrature, conjunction, elongation, and ... opposition.

In our Western skies, three planets are visible with the naked eye or binoculars during February evenings. They are Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury.


On August 5th, the planet Mars will be invaded by an alien spacecraft – a robot probe from planet Earth! On Tuesday evening, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity, will arrive at Mars.