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Observatory to open for Mars viewing

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

Mars will be closer to the Earth at the end of this month than it has been in 600,000 years.

And the best view in Northern Nevada will be from the Jack C. Davis Observatory at Western Nevada Community College in Carson City.

“It’s very exciting,” said Robert Collier, professor of physics and astronomy. “We’ll be using some of our big telescopes to see it.”

The public is invited to view the red planet Aug. 29 and 30. The observatory will be open from dusk until 2 a.m. both times.

“This is opportunity time,” Collier said. “It will not be this close to us in our lifetime.”

In fact, scientists predict Mars won’t be as close again until Aug. 28, 2287.

Collier said the best time to view the planet will be after midnight when the skies are clearer. If it is clear enough, he said viewers may be able to see the polar ice cap and other details on the surface of Mars.

About 35 million miles of space will separate Earth and Mars on Aug. 27, five times closer than it was just six months ago.

The 2,800 square-foot, million-dollar observatory opened with a first-light ceremony May 15. The facility houses five telescopes, including one to track the movements of the sun.

Collier said news of Mars’ approach has piqued the public’s interest in the observatory.

“People are realizing we have an observatory in Carson City, and they want to take advantage of it,” he said. “The phones have been ringing off the hook up here.”

His message is the same: “Everybody’s wanted and welcome to come.”

IF YOU GO

What: Viewing of Mars

When: Dusk until 2 a.m. Aug. 29 and 30

Where: Jack C. Davis Observatory, Western Nevada Community College, 2201 W. College Parkway

ON THE NET

http://www.planetary.org/marswatch2003/

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/