Log, Sep 5, 2003

125 people

Finally.... MARS!

After weeks of soggy Friday evenings, we finally had a night that would allow us to view the red planet while it was still fairly close to us. Now all I needed was to get the scope up and running. This took some doing, as the weeks and weeks of disuse and 4 years of sitting in the dome through cold New England winters and hot summers have taken their toll. Despite all my best efforts (which were none the better for not having laid hands on the scope for a year), the scope absolutely refused to take an alignment, which meant that anything I looked for would have to be pointed to by hand. That's fine - it's hard to miss Mars right now, but it also refused to track accurately, which meant that I'd have to keep moving the target back into the eyepiece. Again, I could deal, so in came the crowds...

...just in time for the clouds to roll in! There is a phenomenon that happens along the coast just after sunset which will have clouds roll in as the earth cools. They'll come in for an hour or so, then move out. Well, this was what happened, and the folks that were lined up all the way out to the road to see Mars were none to happy about it.

Most believed me when I told the crowd that I expected them to blow through by 10 - many of them with much more faith than I had! But by 9:45 they did indeed begin to clear, and we proceeded to take our first looks upon Mars.

Talk about instant gratification - Syrtis major was front and center, and the southern polar ice cap gleamed brightly! Person after person came up for their glimpse, and few were disappointed, though many commented that it wasn't nearly as red as they'd imagined. I suppose all those color-enhanced Hubble photos have spoiled people!

As the night wore on, we noted the rotation of the planet, with Mare Serpentatis and Mare Erythreum eventually rolling into view as well. By 12:30 all but a few die-hards had moved on, and I was getting ready to pack it up when Ernie came in with his home-made occulting eyepiece. We slipped it into the holder, put the planet under the bar, and were both pleasantly surprised to immediately see a tiny pinpoint of light about 3 Mars-widths away. Could this be Deimos, one of the moons of Mars? It could be, it could also be a background star. The big question was whether our scope flipped the image horizontally (right to left) when we used the diagonal mirror. I just couldn't remember the basic mechanics of the optics involved. Les would have known, if he had been there. (A speedy recovery is hoped for by all, Les.)

I then went to the computer and checked the image on the screen with the image in the eyepiece... Yes! The scope flips the image! We were able to add Deimos to the list of objects we've seen with the big scope! Unfortunately, Ernie had packed up and left before I verified this, so Ernie, chalk one up for your eyepiece (and your determination).

The official log for the night counted 125 visitors, but I know a number of people didn't sign in, or left before the clouds broke. Even with that many people, no one complained about spending all night on just one object. I know I didn't - Mars mesmerized me all night long.

-Joe Hartley

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Sep 5, 2003
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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