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Come to ETSU and watch Mars get in Earth's space

Matthew Lane • Jul 15, 2018 at 9:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — There’s an upcoming event at East Tennessee State University where you’ll be able to see the four brightest planets in our solar system.

And if you’re lucky — and the sky is clear — you might just get to see the southern pole of Mars and its ice cap.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

The Bays Mountain Astronomy Club and the ETSU Physics Department are hosting two summer events — on July 27 and August 3 from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. — to view Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars with the help of a small fleet of telescopes.

These observing events will be held on the ETSU campus in Johnson City. You’ll need to meet at Parking Lot 22A, which runs parallel to the Go Bucs Trail, near West State of Franklin. Enter the campus to access the lot from Jack Vest Drive.

The events are free and open to the public, but if the weather is too cloudy or raining, they will be canceled.

While all four of these planets are visible during the summer, the two observing dates are important because they take advantage of the opposition of Mars.

OVERTAKING THE RED PLANET

The opposition of Mars provides a multi-week window of opportunity to see Mars look a little bigger in a telescope than at other times. This happens when Earth overtakes Mars in its orbit as Earth circles the sun faster than the Red Planet does. At this time, Earth and Mars will be nearest one another.

This means that quality telescopes — at a high power and with a steady sky — can reveal general surface details. What you could see on Mars includes dark, lava covered lowlands and light reddish highlands. And if you’re lucky, the southern pole with an ice cap.

I’M YOUR VENUS

Venus will not show features since it’s always enshrouded by clouds and will look about the same size as Mars. Jupiter and Saturn will show a good amount of features as the planets will look twice as large as Mars in a telescope.

You should also be able to see the main dark belts and light zones of Jupiter (along with four of its largest moons) and the eye-catching rings of Saturn and some of its larger moons.

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