Monday, October 31, 2005

Mars Dresses For The Occasion

Planetary observing. A rarity for me.

Last night looked like the best possibility of seeing Mars at least once near its current closest approach. So I put the scope out back in the afternoon and filled the day with work, aikido and and reading about the atomic spaceship "Project Orion". Mars would not clear the trees in my downtown San Jose backyard until about 11 P.M.

The "holiday" had actually been interesting and fun... kids coming to the door in costume. Some were easily recognizable, others looking very home-made (the mom dressed as Bo-Peep was the best!). One boy - big for trick-or-treating - was the last in a large group. I couldn't tell what he was. As I reached out to put a Mars Bar in his bag I said "who are you?" - meaning "what are you".... stunned, he blurted out "Roberto Montoya"... I laughed, not meaning to interrogate him. I think we were both surprised.

The orange and black kidfest ended and I eventually I found my way out back to see what the views were like in the scope - a 10" f/5.7 Dobsonian. In went the 12mm, nice view! At this low power the seeing appeared very steady.

The planet's color was strikingly appropriate for the night - orange and black. I thought about the trick-or-treaters, about Montoya's odd costume, and recalled when as a 9 year old when family money must have been tight and I wore an aluminum colander on my head and a cardboard box decorated to look like I was a robot - from Mars.

In went the 7mm and detail became very apparent. The planet was very steady, really good seeing. The dark markings appeared to form, well, almost a bow-tie, just slightly off center toward the leading edge. A lighter area with a dark spot also showed slightly south and toward the trailing edge. These were excellent views! The bow-tie feature had some extensions, most notably from near the "knot" toward the south. I smiled at the bow tie... remembering my Martian Robot costume had included one as well.

Mars was in perfect Halloween color and dress. I was surprised by the coincidence with my childhood, and how observing it last night brought back those memories. It was a fun night...

ps - Please, no aluminum hats for X-Mas..