December 2007 Archives

Mars Opposition

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Mars weather image, 13 Dec 2007Next Monday, 24 December (Christmas Eve), Mars (seen here in a composite image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last week) will be in opposition with relation to Earth; what this means it that the Sun, Earth and Mars will be in a straight line and Mars will be exactly in the opposite direction from the Sun as seen from the Earth.

Because of the way both planets orbit the Sun (at different distances and speeds), this happens approximately every two years, and this event marks the closest approach between the planets in that period. Depending on when that happens in the year, though, the approach can be very close, not so close or something in between. This year's opposition falls in the "something in between" category. The 2003 approach was a really close one, as it happened when both planets were at their closest approach to the Sun (this always happens when the opposition happens in July or August); the next one, in early 2010, will be a "not so close" one.

Still, Mars is already very bright in the evening sky; maximum brightness, in fact, happens tonight, as the actual closest approach is not at the same time as opposition; since the orbits don't quite match, the closest approach happens today (19 Dec) at 10.45am Melbourne time. Mars can be easily seen at night, even in bright skies, as a clearly reddish "star" rising in the north-east as the Sun sets (which makes sense, if you think about it). Even a small telescope will provide a very good view of the planet, but looking with your naked eyes will be a beautiful sight as well.

This great view will continue over the next few weeks, slowly losing brightness as Earth overtakes Mars and pulls away. So, lots of opportunities to go out and watch our red neighbour; if the weather is not that good tonight, you're still sure to get at least one clear night over the next week or so. And, really, you can't miss it in the sky.

Barbecues and Carnivals

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I should have mentioned this earlier, but... tomorrow (8 Dec) the Astronomical Society of Victoria promotes the 2007 Star-Be-Cue at its dark sky site in Heathcote, Victoria. The event is open to the general public; it starts at noon and officially ends at 11.30am on Sunday (but, of course, one is free to arrive and leave at any time). Arriving before sunset is much recommended. Several vendors will be around displaying products, there are prizes, Santa will be showing up, a hot dinner and cold drinks will be provided, and a beautiful starry sky is expected to make an appearance and to be on display on a number of different telescopes (weather forecast: 9 to 29°C, mostly sunny). The full program of events and instructions for finding the site are at the ASV website. $5 for members, $10 for non-members, but well worth it.

And, in the online world, Carnival of Space #32 has been posted, including an assortment of links about missions to the Moon, missions to Mars, missions to Grand Central Station in NY, sailing missions around the solar system and many other mission- and non-mission-related posts around the astrosphere.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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