Community residents are invited to a special "Mars Gazing" evening at Genesee Community College Tuesday, September 2, at 9:45 p.m. using the College's powerful telescopes. In the event of cloudy weather, the event will be changed to Thursday, September 4, at 9:45 p.m.
Next week, the planet Mars - often dubbed the "red planet" by astronomers - will be only about 34,600,000 miles from earth, the closest the two planets have been in 60,000 years. This will be an ideal time for almost anyone to view the planet, according to Michael A. Crittenden, Professor of Physics at Genesee and a frequent astronomy instructor.
The event is free and participants will gather outside the main entrance to the Batavia Campus. Although reservations are not required, they are appreciated and may be made by calling 343-0055, extension 6528. Professor Crittenden will open the evening with a brief history and overview of the planet Mars. He will then instruct participants in the use of the telescopes and give participants the opportunity to view details of the Martian landscape.
In the event of cloudy or questionable weather, individuals planning to come may call 343-0055, extension 6528 anytime during the afternoon of September 2 to learn whether the event will be held that evening or rescheduled to September 4.
The planet Mars is the most prominent part of the current night sky landscape. It rises in the southeast shortly after 8:30 p.m. and is brighter than any nighttime star. By 5:30 a.m. the planet is in the southwestern sky. Mars is brightest in late evening, the ideal time for viewing the planet.
Because of its proximity to earth, the planet Mars has fascinated humans for centuries, according to Professor Crittenden. "As late as the 19th century, and even into the 20th century, many well-educated people believed that intelligent life might exist on Mars," he said. "Scientists have been very interested in the planet over the last half-century, and NASA has made the exploration of Mars one of its priorities. In the last decade, the famed Martian 'rover' gave scientists a first-hand look at the planet's surface and composition. Many astronomers believe that Mars will be the focus of our next manned space expeditions, perhaps in another two decades."