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AAAA News and Activities 2003

Opposition Timetable
Finding Mars
Martian Features
Observing with Filters
Sketching What You See
Martian Statistics
Mars Observing Form
AAAA Mars Card

The Mars Year - 2003
Mars Day on TV - KTVT CBS Channel 11, Dallas
Welcome to Wired News
Wired News: Spending Green to See Red Planet
Annular Eclipse - May 31, 2003
Lunar Eclipse - May 15, 2003
Transit of Mercury - May 7, 2003
Mid-America Astrophysics Conference

Download and copy the AAAA PDF observing form as many times as you need, use it to record your observations, and file it in your observing notebook.

NASA Photo Mars 2001.

Sketching What You See

Click on Image for Enlarged View

Many potential planetary observers say they canít draw, so they never even try to make planetary drawings. But drawing planets is not fine art. Instead, it is a careful record of what you saw with your telescope. An ugly drawing is just as useful as a masterpieceóso donít let any lack of artistic ability stand in your way.

Use the AAAA observing form  for your drawings. Download our PDF file and copy the form as many times as you need, use it to record your observations, and file it in your observing notebook.

Another convenient method is to use index cards for planetary sketching. Put one observation on each card, and be sure to include all relevant information on the card. Cards are convenient at the telescope, easy to stuff in the pocket of your shirt or coat, and easy to store in date-order in a file box. Both 3x5 and 4x6 cards work well.

The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, ALPO, recommends that observers use the "standard" Mars sketch template of 42 millimeters in diameter. The original reason for this is that Mars is 4,200 miles in diameter, so the image scale is a convenient 100 miles per millimeter. Today it makes sense to maintain a uniform format even if the mix of units seems a bit odd, especially of you plan to submit your observations to ALPO.

Begin a sketch by drawing in the phase of the planet and the polar cap in the 42-mm circle on your observing form. Mars will have a pronounced gibbous appearance in August. South should be at the top of your drawing. Sketch the major features with a few rough outlines, then use a pencil to block in the areas of these features and indicate how dark the features are. This preliminary stage should take no longer than ten to fifteen minutes. If it takes longer, the rotation of Mars will distort your drawing. Complete the sketch by adding fine details and cloud features.

Your goal is not to make a pretty drawing but to record the visible features of the planet. Donít be afraid to indicate clouds with dashed lines or show bright spots with dotted lines and labels. Make notes about everything you can see or even suspect you can see, including color, visibility of clouds and features with and without color filters, type of filter used (i.e., Wratten 47, or Optica b/c medium blue), and the brightness of features.

As you become more familiar with Mars, your skill as an observer will increase as you learn to recognize all the standard features of the planet and become able to recognize subtle changes when they occur. Donít expect to learn the names of all the features right away; there are too many of them and the names are pretty strange. If you learn the names of the major features from the chart on page 3 and then locate these features on the planet as it approaches Earth, you will soon know them all, and the process will be quite painless.

AAAA Mars Card

The AAAA Mars Card is a concise way to learn the essential information about Mars during the current favorable opposition in August and September 2003. Just click on either image to down load our PDF, print it off, and make copies for yourself and to hand out at your own Mars Observing Events for friends and the general public!
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Planning for the Public

In planning any special Mars observing activities for the general public or the media, keep in mind that in late August when Mars is closest (diameter about 25 arc sec), it will only rise about 30 degrees above the horizon at midnight ... so not good for "early evening" observing. However, this situation improves through September: at end of September, Mars will still be over 20 arc sec. in diameter, but will cross the meridian (a bit more than 30 degrees high) earlier ... about 9:30PM. This placement is somewhat better for public programs.

As always, there is the danger of planet-wide dust storms at this perihelion. Storm activity on Mars will easily wipe out any surface features otherwise visible.

The Planetary Society has proclaimed August 27, 2003, the date of opposition, as "Mars Day". The Planetary Society has a goal of "half of the world's population looking at, or thinking about, Mars" on Mars day. So please circle this day on your calendar. Now is the time to start planning Mars Parties in your local area.

Oppositions of Mars 1988-2003

This chart by C.F. Chapin shows the relative positions of Mars and Earth for the years 1988 to 2003. The last great opposition of Mars was 1988. On August 28, 2003, Mars will be at its closest approach to Earth in recorded history, at a distance of only 34,646,418 miles.

Click on image for enlarged view

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