From: LARRY KLAES (ljk4_at_msn.com)
Date: Fri Aug 15 2003 - 04:19:04 PDT
----- Original Message -----
From: Barry Karr
Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2003 2:39 PM
Subject: CSICOP Announce: Mars Guide, Sandia Statment on ID Poll
1) Guide to the Close Approach to Mars
2) Sandia response to Poll on ID
3) Opinion Piece on Sound Science from the Washington Post
The 2003 Close Approach of Mars
An Information Sheet by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College)
1. What’s All This Excitement About Mars?
In the last half of August and first half of September, Mars will
be closer and thus brighter than usual in our skies, and visible for most
of the night. And on the night of August 26-27, Mars will actually be
closer to the Earth than it has been in about 60,000 years (the last time
it was this close was 57,617 BCE -- which was a little before my time, and
yours too probably!) Even at this closest approach, however, Mars will
still be about 35 million miles away.
2. How Easy Will Mars Be to See for the Average Person?
Mars should be easy to spot for weeks, a brilliant reddish dot in
the sky. At closest approach it will be the brightest object in the night
sky (other than the Moon.) But seen with the naked eye, it will still just
be a dot. To see details, you will need a reasonably good telescope. Many
colleges, planetaria, observatories, and amateur astronomy clubs with good
telescopes will be holding special Mars viewing events. Contact the one
nearest you for specific schedules.
Because there will be lots of media hype about Mars, I want to
emphasize that you should not expect to see the kinds of views we get from
the Hubble Space Telescope or missions that fly by the planet. With
moderate-size telescopes, from the surface of the Earth, with the air
dancing and shimmering, you’ll most likely just see a small, fuzzy, orange
ball, with few features. (The polar ice caps will probably be the easiest
things to spot.) Still, you’ll never have a better chance to take a look at
a planet that has always fascinated humanity.
3. When and Where Should We Look for Mars in the Sky?
In the first half of August, Mars rises in the east-southeast
around 10 pm (local daylight savings time) and then can be seen somewhat
higher as it moves with the turning sky toward the south and southwest. In
the second half of August, it will rise by roughly 9 pm, while in early
September it will already be rising at dusk. Since Mars is low in the sky
in the evenings, you may need to get to a higher location to see it before
the kids go to bed, if you have hills or buildings toward the
east-southeast. Or if you get up early in the morning, catch it toward the
west-southwest before dawn. (And bear in mind that Mars does not need to be
seen at exactly the day of closest approach; a week or two before or after
August 27 is just about as good.)
4. What If We Miss it This Time?
There is no reason to miss finding Mars in the sky, since you have
many weeks to see it. But if you don’t get a telescopic view this time,
you can catch another close approach in October 2005 (although the one in
2003 will be better).
5. What Do I Tell the Kids about Mars?
The red planet Mars is of great interest to us not only because it
is a close neighbor in space, but also because there is growing evidence
that, billions of years ago, there was abundant liquid water on its surface
(and thicker air than today). It could have been a place where life began
independent of planet Earth, although such life is unlikely to have
survived in the cold dry Mars environment we see today. In any case, since
our other planet neighbor, Venus, is a hellish place with temperatures
hotter than the cleaning cycle of your oven, Mars is the most likely planet
on whose surface humanity will someday set up bases or have tourism.
6. What are Scientists Doing about this Close Approach?
Lots of telescopes, including the Hubble, will take images of
Mars, but these days, Mars is best observed from robot spacecraft that land
or go into orbit. Such craft are now being launched about every 2 years,
each time Mars is closer. Several have been launched this time, including
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express,
and the Japanese Nozomi. These will begin to orbit Mars or land in December
7. Where Can I Learn More about Mars on the Web?
Mars in the Sky: http://SkyandTelescope.com/observing/objects/planets
Best Mars (and other planet) Pictures: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov
The Nine Planets Site: http://www.nineplanets.org/mars.html
Views of the Solar System Site: http://www.solarviews.com/eng/mars.htm
NASA Mars Missions: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov OR http://cmex-www.arc.nasa.gov
Astronomy Education Resources (in general):
FUN MARS FACTS:
· Mars is only about half the size of Earth; but since it has no
oceans, the exposed land area on the two planets turns out to be roughly
· Mars takes almost the same time to spin as Earth (about 24 hours),
but takes 687 Earth days to go around the Sun. (In other words, Mars’ day
is about the same, but its year is longer.)
· Mars has the tallest volcano in the solar system; its Mount Olympus
is about 13 miles high, more than twice the height of Earth’s Mount Everest.
· Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos & Deimos, that are probably
· On Mars, the air so thin, your blood would actually boil (without a
pressure suit). And your first deep breath would likely be your last deep
breath (the air is mostly carbon dioxide.)
Addendum: What’s Happening in the San Francisco Bay Area?
Larger telescopes for public viewing Mars are available at the
Chabot Observatory in Oakland and Foothill College in Los Altos Hills,
among other places.
A complete list of local (SF Area) viewing opportunities and “Mars
parties” is kept at the web site:
http://www.whiteoaks.com/jane/Mars/ (From here you can link to other Mars
Andrew Fraknoi, Chair: Astronomy Program,
Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road,
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022, USA
2) A recent news release issued by the Intelligent Design Network
indicated Sandia's 8,000 employees were among 16,000 people
surveyed about the issue of teaching creationism along with evolution
in New Mexico schools. This release was very misleading. No such
survey took place among Sandia's 8,000 employees. When we looked
closely into this claim, we learned that of the 16,000 people at Sandia,
Los Alamos and the three New Mexico state universities who we
understand purportedly were given an opportunity to participate, only
248 people actually chose to participate in such a survey. We have no
idea how these individuals were selected. A sample this small, from
such a large population, has no scientific validity and should not be
used to imply Sandia National Laboratories or its employees endorse
the Intelligent Design Network's ideas. I am disappointed that the
Intelligent Design Network chose to include Sandia National
Laboratories in a news release based upon a bogus mini-survey. As
one of the world's leading engineering and science laboratories, we at
Sandia are very careful to apply accepted scientific methods to all
surveys in which we participate. That is not the case with the survey
in question. We did not participate in the Intelligent Design Network's
survey and do not support its conclusions.
C. Paul Robinson
President and Laboratories Director
Sandia National Laboratories
August 13, 2003
3) No political substitute for sound science
By Henry Kelly
Special to The Washington Post
Distinguishing truth from fantasy has been a full-time occupation in Washington for generations. But even the most seasoned politician can be baffled by debates on the safety of smallpox vaccines, the potential of fuel-cell automobiles, stem-cell research and hundreds of other issues that hinge on matters of science. The painful reality, however, is that Congress lacks an independent source of science and technological advice — one that can cut through the tangle of special-interest analysis and help lawmakers understand what's known, what's unknown and what's unknowable. While the need for unbiased technical advice
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