Exploring Mars in Your Own Backyard

April 8, 2014 was a great night for astronomy. If you missed it, it’s ok as Mars will still be there, or thereabouts for the rest of the week. It just won’t be as bright, though it’s supposed to be “darker red” on Friday evening.


We are lucky here in the plains states, at least “away from city lights” is not all that hard to get to. My son and I went out by a local farmer’s house and set up the telescope near his fallow field. Just after sunset, here it came, the pink planet? Yes, Mars doesn’t really look all that red from here anymore. Perhaps it’s due to some factor of air pollution that absorbs blue light or doesn’t absorb as much blue as it used to do. Yes, we see “red” when all the blue is filtered out and vice versa. And yes, a lot of you probably know that already. At least I hope so. Given the state of science education these days (someone in a Health Technologies class at the local college had never heard of Bill Nye!), I no longer make assumptions.

Anyway, there we were, standing on a hill, and it was a great show. We were able to spot Mars and Regulus, about 8 finger widths above the eastern horizon right after sunset, Jupiter, up near the 1/2 moon, Orion, Ursa Major/Minor, Betelgeuse, Procyon and Polaris, the northern star, right off. Castor and Pollux took a bit more doing as they are very near the “white out zone” of the moon in mid-sky.

Sky watching is not hard, and really can be done in most places without even a telescope, as long as there is not too much light pollution. If you are stuck in a large urban area, you can look online and “watch” the stars still. http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance?pos=left Also, it’s very different if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and I’d love to see what you’ve seen if you are.

It’s great outdoor fun and a good way to get even younger children involved in science and, maybe, even <gasp!> maths.


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