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.Enjoy our starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor: reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward.
Let the stars light up the night.

NIght Sky

October night sky

Charlie Christmann

Devil of a Planet

Mars is in the news. If you have not heard, we have a new, car-sized rover just starting its explorations. This mission is the latest in a long series of scientific spacecrafts that have tried to visit the forth planet from the sun.

So, why all the interest? It likely stems from the earliest telescopic observations in which Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli thought he saw canals on the surface of the planet. It was thought that there were Martians, currently alive, or perhaps long dead, which had built the system to provide irrigation. As telescopes became more powerful, and eventually spacecrafts photographed the planet up close, the notions of canals were found to be an optical illusion.

Yet, scientists today believe that Mars did have liquid water on its surface sometime in the past. Along with liquid water comes life, or so it is thought. So, we keep going back to Mars to look for life because it is more accessible than other locations in our solar system, as interplanetary trips go. Mars, at its closest is 34 million miles away, less than a year travel time.  But the trip is not a straight line, it incorporates a long looping path from Earth to catch Mars on the opposite side of the Sun.

Since 1964, both the USA and USSR have been sending spacecraft to investigate Mars, with varying  degrees of success. Rocket scientists believe Mars is cursed, because of the many failures to get there. From 1960 to 1962, the USSR had five failed tries at the red planet.

Mariner 3 and 4 were identical spacecraft designed for flybys of Mars for a quick first look. Mariner 3 was launched on November 5, 1964, but the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed to open properly; Mariner 3 failed. Three weeks later, on November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 was launched on an eight-month voyage to the red planet and successfully returned the first close-up photos of the surface. From 1964 to 1969, the USSR tried another three missions, all failed.

Between 1969 and 2000, the USA and USSR tried 21 missions, with only eight successes. Since 2001, the USA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has had a string of successes.

In 2001, the USA put the Mars Odyssey in orbit. It is still operating today, having returned more than 130,000 images. It continues to send information to Earth about Martian geology, climate, and mineralogy and to relay communications from the surface back to Earth.

The ESA got their orbiter to Mars in 2003, but the associated lander was lost on the surface.

2003 found two USA landers with small rovers traversing the surface of Mars. Both Spirit and Opportunity found strong evidence of surface water and are still sending back data and images today.

The USA put the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) around Mars in 2005, where it still makes detailed images of the surface and relays data from rovers to Earth. To date, MRO has transmitted more than 26 terabits of data (more than all other Mars missions combined).

The Phoenix lander touched down at the Martian North Pole in 2008, looking for water ice and carbon compounds. Its mission ended in 2010 when it never replied to NASA transmissions. The MRO took photos from orbit and showed signs of severe ice damage to the lander’s solar panels.

Now we have Curiosity on the surface, just waiting to be unleashed to start its mission of discovery. Stay tuned, Mars tends to throw a few surprises.

The Planets and Moon:

  • The sun rises at 7:00 a.m. early in the month to 7:30 a.m. at the end of the month. Sunset is from 6:46 p.m. to 6:10 p.m.
  • Mercury sets in the WSW around 7:20 p.m. this month.
  • Venus is bright, rising in the East around 4:10 a.m. Look for Venus to the upper left of the Moon on the 12th.
  • Mars is low in the SW at sunset this month. The Moon will be to the upper left of Mars on the 18th one point five hours after sunset. Antares will be below the Moon on the horizon.
  • Jupiter rises in the ENE a couple of hours after sunset.
  • Look quick for Saturn after sunset on the WSW horizon early in the month.
  • The Moon is new on the 15th at 6:02 a.m. and full the 29th at 1:50 p.m.
  • Beware of low-flying object overhead on the 31st. Reports from past years tell of long slender objects with a vertical, person-shaped object riding atop; occasional cackling has also been heard.

Placitas Star Party

Placitas Star Party — Saturday October 20th 6:30–10:00 PM
Placitas Community Library

On Saturday October 20th Las Placitas Association, the Placitas Community Library and the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) will co-host a free public astronomical viewing event at the Placitas Community Library. This will be the second star party held at the Placitas Community Library and based on last year’s great success, we can expect clear skies making for fantastic viewing conditions. We expect a spectacular show including globular clusters, spiral galaxies and assorted other deep sky objects. The Star Party is always a Placitas favorite, and is a great family event — a perfect opportunity for the kids to learn about astronomy.

The event is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. and will officially end at 10:00 p.m. Daylight Savings Time. Volunteers will be on hand to assist the pubic and astronomers with parking. Amateur and professional astronomers and anyone else wishing to bring telescopes are encouraged to arrive before 6:00 p.m. for setup in the main parking area found along the southern side of the library. Visitors will be directed to park in the gravel lot immediately west of the library. Please be patient and cooperate with our parking volunteers, things will be much better that way!

The library has graciously offered to serve hot cider and biscochitos and indoor bathrooms will be made available as well.

Just like with past star parties be sure to bring warm clothes as temperatures can really cool off by this time of year. Don't forget your red flashlights as white light knocks out night vision needed to see stars and deep sky objects. Red cellophane works well to redden your white lights. This event is weather-dependent and will end by 10:00 p.m.

 
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