I thought I was finished writing about this year’s close encounter with Mars. In fact, I thought I was finished looking at the red planet for a while. For about two months, cloudy skies and Earth-bound activities (things other than astronomy) kept me from using my telescope.
About 3 weeks ago, our astronomy club, together with 8 other clubs, had a giant star party with about 5000 guests. Very early in the evening, I turned the telescope to Mars, and was surprised to see that it still appeared large enough for a good look. I must have said, at least 50 times, “It will be 15 years until we get this good a look at Mars.”
The views early in the evening were very fuzzy, due to the instability of the atmosphere. Regardless, our guests were glad to have a look. Much later, I found that the air was much steadier, and I was able to see the polar ice cap and some dark areas on the disk of the planet. Even though this happened well past our closest encounter with Mars, these were among my best observations for a long time.
The planet-wide dust storm, which had interfered with viewing, has settled down quite a bit. So, we still have a few more weeks to look at our neighboring planet through a telescope. And, that 15-year wait hasn’t started yet!
Keep looking up!