(June 13, 2001)
Mars is closest to Earth on June 21. You can view Mars naked eye, with binoculars and through telescopes right now! Many astronomy clubs and science centers will have their regularly scheduled star parties near Mars Opposition. The new moon Saturday night - June 23 is only two days past the closest approach to Earth. Look through the AANC Resource Guide for the club or science center closest to you, and either check out the websites, or call/email the contact person for Mars viewing opportunities. Every month there are beautiful objects to view in our universe, and many organizations ready, willing and able to show it to you. Make a date with the sky every month!
The AANC resource guide with club information is at
Some excellent Mars sketches by AANC President, Jane Houston Jones are at http://www.whiteoaks.com/sketches/. She says,
The sketches were made at 09:00 UTC or 2:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, using my Astro Physics Traveler (102mm f/5) refractor on three nights: May 29, May 30 and June 1, 2001 from San Rafael, CA, The coordinates of my location are latitude N37.58 longitude W122.31. Mars cleared my back deck roof at this hour on these dates, and it was also nice and high, at least as high as it is going to get this year. I used a 2.3 mm Orion Lanthanum eyepiece for a magnification of 265x. North is up, east right and west left in these sketches.
Mare Boreum was dark right below the tiny bit of visible north polar cap. Chryse was a large whitish oval near the western limb between the NPC and Mare Acidalium. It blended into a dark anvil shaped area which turned out to be several features - Nileacus Lacus and a lighter area - Achillus Pons. Counterclockwise dark swirls curved eastward toward Arcadia. These are named Nilokeras, Achillis Fons and and Idacus Fons. These tendrils also pointed towards where the great volcanoes of the Tharsis Plateau are located.
Further south, also jutting out towards Tharsis - the great ochre plateau were the features Tithonius Lacus and Noctis Lacus and I know I couldn't really see it but this is right where Vallis Marinaris is. The dark finger-shaped feature is right where the largest rift system on Mars is located. That alone made the night a thrilling success for me. It was much more fun observing Mars knowing what I was looking at.
The large south polar cap was below the light ochre Mare Australe, which was below the dark group of features named Bosporos Gemmatus, Mare Chronium, Phathontis, Mare Sirenum, encircling a southern band of dark above the south polar cap from west to east.
The large expanse of Tharsis was mostly featureless although I detected some lighter mottling. Right where I sketched these lighter blotches are where the three volcanoes are, and over a bit toward the eastern side of Tharsis is where Olympus Mons is located. These whitish features were clouds hovering over the peaks of the calderas.
"Where can I see Mars?" you might ask. The month before and after opposition on June 13th are the best times to see our red planet this year. Mars orbit takes it far south this year. It will not get any higher than 30 degrees above the horizon (90 degrees is straight overhead, or what we call the zenith). Your constellation guide is the Scorpion. When you see Scorpius and our summer Milky Way rising in the eastern sky at night, keep an eye our for Mars, an ochre colored ball brighter than Jupiter.
Basic Mars information from The Nine Planets website, by Bill Arnett, San Jose Astronomical Association http://www.seds.org/billa/tnp/mars.html
It's Time to Look at Mars, by Akkana Peck, San Jose Astronomical Association, Current June 2001 Newsletter http://ephemeris.sjaa.net/
Shallow Sky website Mars Observing FAQ, including software programs which show Mars rotation and surface features http://www.shallowsky.com/mars.html
Observing information on the 2001 apparition from Sky and Telescope Magazine: http://www.skypub.com/sights/moonplanets/0105marsreturn.shtml
Want to join a lunar and planetary observing list?? Check this out! http://www.shallowsky.com/shallow-sky.html
-- Jane Houston Jones
San Rafael, CA