The Hallstrom Planetarium at Indian River State College will host guided telescopic views of Mars from July 23–31, during the red planet’s perihelic opposition—the point in its orbit when it happens to be closest to the sun (perihelion) and occurring when Earth is passing it (opposition). At this time, the Earth is millions of miles closer to Mars than usual, which results in great viewing opportunities.
The “Mars Watch” at IRSC is presented in conjunction with the Treasure Coast Astronomical Society, whose members, along with Hallstrom Planetarium Director Jon U. Bell, will be setting up their telescopes nightly next to the Planetarium on the IRSC Main Campus in Fort Pierce, one block south of the intersection of Virginia Avenue and 30th Street.
“A celestial object that is at opposition rises out of the east at sunset, is highest in the sky at midnight, and sets at sunrise,” exclaims Jon U. Bell, Director of the Hallstrom Planetarium at IRSC. “In other words, we’re as close to it as we can get, and we’re able to observe it all night long!”
Being this close, says Bell, allows us to get good, detailed views of the Martian features when we observe it with a telescope. During a perihelic opposition, it’s possible to see some of its mountains and valleys, admittedly looking quite blurry, but enough to suggest the crisscrossing lines that were noted during another such event back in the late 19th century. (The last great views of Mars were in 2003, when the Earth passed it at a distance of less than 35 million miles.)
The viewing will take place from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., weather permitting, from July 23 to 31; set-up begins at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and bring along their own telescopes, which club members and Bell will help them use to locate Mars.
Additionally, telescopes will be aimed at the planets Jupiter and Saturn, plus the moon, which will be full on July 27. The full moon and Mars will be in conjunction—close together in the constellation Capricornus—and at opposition that night.
To learn more about the perihelic opposition or to get more information about the Mars viewing events, contact Jon Bell, IRSC Planetarium Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.