Sunday, November 06, 2005

Mars is quite a November!

Glowing a pale orange in the nighttime sky, Mars has been increasingly easier to spot.
And the Cernan Earth and Space Center at Triton College, 2000 N. Fifth Ave., River Grove, is continuing to host telescope viewing sessions this weekend.

At the first session Oct. 22, instructor Daniel Troiani hosted a 20-minute introduction to the planet before heading outside.

Troiani show images of "W" clouds, which mark volcanos. He noted the cloud formations are similar to those seen from space around the Rocky Mountains.

He also showed images of Mars that featured "space trash," the remains of the previous NASA Mars exploration programs of Viking I and Pathfinder.

Something of interest to astronomers is a dust storm that is expanding toward the Mars Rover Spirit, one of two robots launched by NASA in the summer of 2003, Troiani explained.

Spirit and Opportunity have been exploring sites on opposite sides of Mars since January 2004. They completed their primary missions three months later and currently are in the third extension of their missions, according to information provided by NASA.

The approaching dust storm could put an end to Spirit's mission, Troiani explained.

The rover is poised on the edge of Gustave Canyon, which is as long as the distance from New York to Los Angeles, he said. With its current position on Mars, Spirit may be able to capture images of the approaching dust storm, which would be the first feature ever seen from the surface of the planet.

But that could put an end to Spirit, Troiani noted. Dust covering its panels would dramatically decrease the amount of sunlight absorbed to be transformed into energy to run programs.
Tracking a dust storm is fairly simple, according to Troiani.

"If something's missing (on the surface of Mars,) that's a dust storm," he explained.
By comparing images of the planet, one can spot the dust storms.

After the show, the audience gathered outside to look at Mars through a through a telescope.
Jack Hayden of Bensenville is intrigued by Mars
"I came here once before, and I liked it," he said.

"I've always liked the stars, astronomy," said Allice Hayden, Jack's wife. "It's one of my hobbies. I wanted to bring (Jack) here and show him, too. And, I brought my neighbor (Karen Haijainski)."
Also out for a look was Susan Mural of Midlothian.

"I came here to see Mars," she said, adding she also has attended previous Cernan Center programs.

Helping with the telescope viewing was Darren Drake , an instructor at Triton. He noted the telescope viewing program uses a combination of Triton equipment as well as telescopes brought by astronomers.

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