Mars is very cold, with a thin and unbreathable atmosphere, it is
the only planet in the solar system that is any way like Earth.
It has rocky deserts with sand dunes but its thin and unbreathable
atmosphere suggest it's not the place to spend your holidays just
August 27th astronomers and observatories across the county are
inviting everyone to take a look at our neighbour. Ken Willoughby
from West Yorkshire Astronomical Society says: "The last earthlings
to see Mars this close were the Neanderthals. Do not miss this opportunity
to view the mysterious red planet! On
August 27th, the date of closest approach, the two worlds will be
56 million kilometres apart. That's a long way by Earth standards,
but only a short distance on the scale of the solar system.
is a good time to go to Mars
the European Space Agency and Japan are all sending spacecraft to
Mars this year. It's a good time to go. Mars will brighten until
it 'blazes forth against the dark background of space with a splendor
that outshines Sirius and rivals the giant Jupiter himself.' Astronomer
Percival Lowell, who famously mapped the canals of Mars, wrote those
words to describe the planet during a similar close encounter in
the 19th century."
went in search of an expert to explain what will be happening. Dr
John Baruch, Head of the Department of Internet, Cybernetics and
Virtual Systems at Bradford University is an astronomer who is very
well-placed to help us as the University has a robotic telescope
Baruch explains: "The Earth and Mars are two of the nine planets
that go round the sun and Mars is a next-door neighbour but Earth
and Mars both go round in ellipses, slightly squashed circles, and
so the nearest point doesn't always coincide because the ellipses
aren't always lined up when they rotate around the sun and, because
they are ellipses when the Earth goes round, Mars goes slower than
the Earth and Earth's got further round but the ellipse also rotates
and so every year we have a close point and that close point varies
through the centuries and we happen to be at the closest of closest
points. It's only a few miles different to what it was last year
and the year before. It's a long time since we were so close but
we're talking about a few thousand kilometeres."
has a long history in West Yorkshire. A blue plaque outside Bradford
College commemorates Bradford-born Nobel Prize winner Sir Edward
Appleton who was the first to discover the ionisation layers high
up in the atmosphere. Today students at Bradford University can
study astronomy using telescopes across the world via the internet
and who knows what they might see one day.
Baruch thinks there might well be life on Mars: "I hope so.
It will be really exciting if there is, and my colleagues have put
a lot of effort into this and it would really be good if our British
probe finds life there. It lands at Christmas. I think it will only
be bugs, little bacteria-type of life. If we want to look for something
more than this in the solar system I think you've got to look at
the moons of Jupiter and particularly one called Europa which has
large oceans on it covered by thin layers of ice and we hope that
we'll find something more exciting then bacteria in those oceans."
West Yorkshire Astronomical Society Observatory is open during National
Astronomy Week (Monday August 25th to Friday August 29th 2003) from
6pm until late. Each evening kicks off with a chance to see the
sun as you've never seen it before, there is a slide show and from
8.30pm to late there will be opportunities to study the night sky
through the Observatory's 18 inch Reflector. Telescopes will be
set up outside for people with disabilities.
Yorkshire Astronomical Society's Observatory is on Carleton Road,
Pontefract next to Carleton Grange Club.