Look To The Skies

Is life getting a bit too stressful for you these days? Are the kids texting more than walking the dog or taking the time to sit down and talk to you? Is your spouse at the office more than spending time at home? Are you in and out of the doctor's office too much, and spending all your money at the pharmacy counter?

Have you forgotten that you can take the garden chairs into the yard or onto the terrace after sunset and watch the stars? I have a solution for you: make a hot cup of ginger tea, and go outside on August 27 and watch a cosmic phenomenon no human being has ever recorded. Mars will be next to the moon, and, in many places on the Earth, will appear the same size as the moon. So, look to the skies for some wonder and relaxation.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in our Solar System. The planet is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. It is also referred to as the "Red Planet" because of its reddish appearance, attributed to the iron oxide prevalent on its surface.

Mars is a terrestrial planet (like Earth) with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent of both the impact craters of the Moon and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth. It is the site of Olympus Mons, the highest known mountain in the Solar System, and of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon. There is evidence of an enormous impact crater in Mars' northern hemisphere, 10,600 km long by 8,500 km wide, roughly four times larger than the largest impact crater ever discovered. In addition to its geographical features, Mars' rotational period and seasonal cycles are similar to Earth's.

Until the first flyby of Mars by Mariner 4 in 1965, many speculated that there might be liquid water on the planet's surface. This was based on observations of periodic variations in light and dark patches, particularly in the polar latitudes, which looked like seas and continents, while long, dark striations were interpreted by some observers as irrigation channels for liquid water. These straight-line features were later proven not to exist and were instead explained as optical illusions. Still, of all the planets in the Solar System, other than Earth, Mars is the most likely to harbor liquid water, and perhaps life. Radar data from Mars Express and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed the presence of large quantities of ice both at the poles and at mid-latitudes. The Phoenix Mars Lander actually sampled ice from the shallow Martian soil on July 31, 2008.

Mars is currently host to three functional orbiting spacecraft: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The surface is also home to the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity). The Phoenix Lander recently completed its mission on the surface. Geological evidence gathered by these, and other, missions suggest that Mars previously had large-scale water coverage, while observations also indicate that small geyser-like water flows have occurred during the past decade. Observations by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor show evidence that parts of Earth's southern polar ice cap have been receding.

Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are small and irregularly shaped. These may be captured asteroids, similar to 5261 Eureka, a Martian Trojan asteroid. Mars can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. Its apparent magnitude reaches -2.9, a brightness surpassed only by Venus, the Moon, and the Sun, although most of the time Jupiter will appear brighter to the naked eye than Mars.1

For a preview, of sorts, click here. As you view this Power Point presentation, click to display text and visuals, click to move to the next screen, and, finally, click to exit.

Mark your calendars, buy some ginger, and dust off those lawn chairs.

1Mars - Wikipedia

Posted July 2009 | Permanent Link

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