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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Close Encounter With Mars

May 31, 2001

Close Encounter With Mars

Troy, N.Y. — Earth and Mars are converging at a rate of 22,000 miles per hour, and their closest encounter, in June, will present amateur astronomers with a rare opportunity to view the Red Planet in exquisite detail.

On June 21, just 42.3 million miles will separate the Earth and Mars — their nearest approach in 12 years. You won’t need a telescope to see Mars, which by early June will already outshine everything except Venus, the Moon, and the Sun.

Nicolle Zellner, a graduate student in astronomy and director of public observing at the Hirsch Observatory at Rensselaer, offers the following viewing suggestions:

* Mars rises at sunset and sets at sunrise.
* Get away from the light pollution of the cities. Find a dark, open field with few trees obscuring the horizon, and look south.
* If weather permits, Capital Region stargazers can observe the Red Planet low in the sky, about 21 degrees above the southern horizon.
* With a telescope, you should be able to discern some features of the Martian landscape, such as the southern polar cap and Syrtis Major, a large, dark, sandy region near the equator.
* To the naked eye, Mars will appear as a bright red dot. Venus, the second-brightest object in the night sky, rises in the east about 90 minutes before sunrise, and remains low in the sky.
* With binoculars Mars will resemble a shining red disk.

Mars will grow brighter as it approaches opposition on June 13 — the date when Earth and Mars are aligned on the same side of the Sun, an arrangement that occurs every 26 months.

Call or e-mail Zellner at (518) 276-6763 or, for Hirsch Observatory hours of operation.

Contact: Patrick Kurp
Phone: (518) 276-6531
E-mail: N/A