The Planet Mars

Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars projected into point perspective, a view similar to that which one would see from a spacecraft. The distance is 2500 kilometers from the surface of the planet, with the scale being .6km/pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars in Opposition (2020)

Oct 13

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

“Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.”

~ Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961

Concerns about Martians this special Tuesday? Tuesdays are historically associated with the planet Mars, named for the god of War. When ancient Babylonians first created the week, dividing it into seven days, Tuesday was associated with the god of War, Mars, thought to rule over the red planet. Special ceremonies were performed on Tuesdays to avoid the fearsome influence of this warlike planet! This is a particularly special Tuesday as today, Mars reaches opposition with the sun, offering the closest view of the planet until 2035 and possibly the best view for northern observers until 2052! Every two years or so, Mars, Earth and the sun form a straight line during the course of their orbits, with Earth in the middle — an event known as opposition. Humans have been speculating and searching for life and seeing strange things on the surface of Mars for centuries: Astronomer William Herschel's speculation about Martian oceans in 1784; Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli 1877 observations of grooves or channels "canali" on the Mars's surface; Guglielmo Marconi's 1921 attempt to hear radio signals that he thought might be Martian; the 1976 Viking 1 spacecraft's photo of the "Face on Mars"; Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke's, 2001 observation of what he thought suggested vegetation on Mars (but was actually seasonal melting of carbon dioxide ice caps which result in patterns called "spiders"); a 2007 photograph by the Mars Rover Spirit which appears to show a robed, kneeling figure; and a 2011 Google Mars capture of what appeared to be an alien base, given the name "Bio Station Alpha" but was actually a pixelated camera artifact! Today, SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs, is working to enable the colonization of Mars by 2050! 🔭 ☀️

The Planet Mars

About every two years the sun, the Earth, and the planet Mars will line up for a a chance to see the red planet in big, bright, detail.

This event is called an "opposition" simply because Mars will be directly opposite the sun in orbit. It's special for two reasons.

When celestial objects are directly opposite the sun, they appear brighter in the sky. Mars will shine much more brightly than it usually does.

The opposition also will occur at a point where Earth and Mars are nearing their closest approach to one another. This makes Mars appear bigger in the sky than it normally would.

Mars has two relatively small natural moons, Phobos (about 22 km (14 mi) in diameter) and Deimos (about 12 km (7.5 mi) in diameter), which orbit close to the planet. Both satellites are named after the characters Phobos (panic/fear) and Deimos (terror/dread), who, in Greek mythology, accompanied their father Ares (the Greek counterpart to "Mars:), god of war, into battle.

For more fascinating pictures of Mars, click the Mars gazers below!

The Planet Mars
The Planet Mars

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