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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
NASA Planetary Photojournal/PA Images Mars as seen through the Hubble Space Telescope.

Mars Watch: Tonight's your chance to see the red planet

Giant telescopes set up around country for public to use.

IF YOU FANCY spotting the red planet tonight, Astronomy Ireland have set up giant telescopes at locations across the country for the public to use.

Mars has been visible to the naked eye this week – along with the planets Venus and Jupiter – as the spring constellations bring them close to Earth. With the naked eye it looks like a very bright star with a reddish tinge to it, but Astronomy Ireland says that the powerful telescopes will allow people to see surface features on the planet like the white north polar ice cap and dark markings.

These markings, says Astronomy Ireland chairman David Moore, were mistaken for canals when Mars came even closer to the Earth around 100 years ago and people could see them. This sparked “stories of intelligent Martians which are now such a prominent feature of science fiction stories about aliens”. Moore said:

This is everyone’s chance to use some of the most powerful telescopes in Ireland to see where the stories of Martians came from over a century ago.

The list of locations are at Astronomy Ireland’s website – they are in Athy, Cork, Down, Dublin and Leitrim/Sligo. Future Mars Watch nights are to take place in as yet unnamed venues in Clare, Louth, Mayo, Waterford, Wexford, Tipperary and Donegal.

The site has some tasty facts about Mars to whet your appetite for tonight:

  • Mars only comes this close to the Earth every two years.
  • Mars is red because “it is rusty” – a high iron content in the soil is turned rusty by the atmosphere on the planet.
  • One of Mars’s moons, Phobos, is moving closer and closer to the planet and is eventually expected to crash into it.
  • Mars has the tallest volcano in the solar system in Olympus Mons and it is three times the height of Mount Everest.
  • The south and north poles of Mars are covered in ice which becomes thicker in the winter.
  • A Martian ‘day’ is half an hour longer than one an Earth day.

The view from the telescope won’t be quite as spectacular as this but if you can’t make it to a venue tonight, you might enjoy this video of NASA images of the planet, with music by Don Brough:

(Via dgbrough1/Youtube)

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