captures observers' imagination
expected to see flying saucers or little green men, but on a
recent August evening, planet Mars was the focus at the UNM
lovers catch a glimpse of the red planet at
1,000 people came out after dark and stood in line to catch
a glimpse of the red planet making its closest pass
by Earth in 60,000 years at approximately 34 and a half million
intermittent cloud cover that periodically interrupted viewing,
stargazers had the chance to see Mars through several telescopes,
many of them brought by local amateur astronomers. While distinct
features of the planet were not visible, even from the observatorys
main telescope, most viewers could make out the white polar
icecaps, rusty-colored surface terrain and the dull green color
of the planets bedrock.
part to renewed efforts to study Mars by the scientific community,
interest has peaked in recent years with a steady stream of
documentaries and major motion pictures.
been highly studied because of its proximity to Earth and a
chance the planet may have supported life at one time, according
to UNM Physics and Astronomy Professor Stephen Gregory, who
gave brief lectures and answered questions while people waited
in line to view the planet.
surface of Mars is incredibly dry, but it seems there could
be a substantial amount of water beneath the surface,
Gregory said. Its a good bet that if theres
water, theres life.
adds that while Earths nearest neighbor, Venus, is too
hot to support any kind of manned expedition, the same is not
true for Mars.
is not beyond the stretch of peoples imagination to see
people walking around Mars in space suits, Gregory said.
hopes that events like the Mars viewing at the observatory serve
to spark interest in astronomy in future generations.
think astronomy adds to the spiritual value of science by trying
to understand the concepts of the Big Bang Theory and the expansion
of the universe, Gregory said.
at the Mars viewing didnt faze crowds as they waited to
get a brief glimpse through the observatorys telescope.
really neat that were able to do this, Elaine Mendoza,
an Albuquerque resident, said. Im glad my kids have
a chance to see this, because we wont be able to see Mars
this close again.
In fact, the next time Mars will pass the Earth this close will
be in 2287, some 284 years from now.
Observatory is open every Friday evening from 8 to 10 p.m.,
while the university is in session, weather permitting. Hours
will change to 7 to 9 p.m. when daylight-saving time ends in