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Area Colleges Aim Their Sights (and Telescopes) at the Red Planet

 

Aug. 6, 2003

(DALLAS) — It's not an Invasion of the Body Snatchers or a re-creation of Mars Attacks, but a five-day period in August will give thousands of Dallas County residents a chance to take a star trek and visit the Red Planet. Mars Watch 2003 means fun and education around the world and in the Dallas area, too.

On Wed., Aug. 27, and Sat., Aug. 30 — during a time when Mars is a mere 34.6 million miles from Earth — telescopes simultaneously will take aim at the neighboring planet's surface from the campuses of Brookhaven, Cedar Valley, Eastfield, Mountain View and Richland colleges for a bird's-eye view of the Martian sky.

Members of the general public are invited to join faculty, staff and students from the Dallas County Community College District's five participating campuses for a Mars party, in partnership with the Texas Astronomical Society's Dallas chapter. The viewings are free and open to anyone who would like to attend.

"We are excited to have a chance to share this moment with children and adults, and to involve DCCCD and TAS as partners in sharing science and the skies with students," said David Hutchison, TAS public observing coordinator who worked with DCCCD's colleges to plan the viewing events.

As Mars draws nearer to Earth each day in August (this year, the closest it's ever been to us in 50,000 years), exploratory craft are racing toward the Red Planet for a January 2004 landing as well. Engineer Todd J. Barber of the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, who currently works on the Mars Exploration Rover missions, will whet science appetites for more Mars information when he discusses several Mars initiatives on Fri., Aug. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Sabine Hall at Richland College, 12800 Abrams Road in Dallas. The special evening of "Mars talk" also is free and open to the public.

Aside from his efforts on the MER mission (which launched two rovers to the Red Planet in June and July of this year), Barber also is working on the Cassini mission to Saturn. He has participated in the Mars Sample Return mission and a Mars airplane study. Barber previously worked on projects like the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Space Infra-Red Telescope Facility mission on Stardust. The guest speaker is a native of Wichita, Kan.; he has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a humanities concentration in music. He also is an amateur astronomer.

Mars Watch 2003 includes two viewings at five DCCCD locations. On Wed., Aug. 27, TAS will set up telescopes in parking lots at Brookhaven, Cedar Valley, Eastfield, Mountain View and Richland (which has its own planetarium). The fun starts at approximately 8:30 p.m. and goes through midnight at each location; it repeats on Sat., Aug. 30, from 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. (The Aug. 30 event also will include a viewing at The Science Place in Fair Park.)

Tentative locations at each college for the viewings are: parking lot East-1/athletic fields at Brookhaven College; main parking lot at the south end of the Cedar Valley College campus; parking lot E-2A (visitors should park in lot E-1) at Eastfield College; parking area near the corner of Illinois and Knoxville avenues at Mountain View College; and parking lot Z at Richland College.

For more information about TAS, visit the group's website at www.texasastro.org. For details about Mars Watch 2003, e-mail Hutchison at hutch@computer.org or visit www.tasobserving.org. For information about DCCCD's viewing locations, contact Ann Hatch at 214.860.2478 and Chaz Hafey for The Science Place at 214.428.5555, ext. 246.