I’ll bet most of you reading this post are dropping by because you want to visit Mars. (What? You don’t know that Expedia is selling vacation packages to Mars ? Well, you really should go book your seat RIGHT NOW before they sell out.)
The funniest thing happened to me earlier this month, I got an e-mail from my friend Corinne Cooley with five extremely detailed questions about Mars. I did my best to help her out, and it turns out she was one of the masterminds behind arranging those vacation packages, and got me that nice link at the bottom of Expedia’s Flights to Mars  page.
I’ve had to keep my answers under wraps until today (you wouldn’t want all the seats to be sold before they’ve even announced they’re selling them, would you?) but finally, here they are.
Question(s) One: Would star-gazing on Mars be as good as I think it would? The atmosphere is a lot thinner. On the other hand I know it can be very dusty. What are your thoughts for on average, and in best conditions? If dust can’t be up to have good gazing, are there any regions on Mars that are significantly less prone to dust storms, or significantly less impacted in a ‘visibility through atmosphere’ sense?
Impacts on Stargazing:
- Light Pollution – you’ll have none of this, and this takes our viewing from the ability to see ~4000 stars on Earth to seeing ~100 in a city.
- Moon Glow – another form of light pollution, but with tiny moons, you’re not going to have a problem here at all. You also will never see a beautiful crescent moon set just after the Sun, or a solar eclipse.
- Atmosphere – This affects seeing more than it affects ability to see. Whoa – confusing? Atmosphere will make things wobbly, and more atmosphere will blot out some dim stuff you can see. Although the astronauts have the best view ever, they could also only probably see about ~4000 – ~6000 stars if they were looking away from the Sun and their eyes adjusted. We can see that lower number from a great location on Earth.
- Water Vapor (clouds etc) – We have a lot of this on Earth. There is some on Mars too – we saw snow falling from clouds towards the Phoenix Lander, and we have time and again seen clouds on Mars. You’ll have SIGNIFICANTLY less, so I would not expect your stars to twinkle nearly as much as they do here.
- Particulate Matter (dust storms) – So, Mars has periodic global dust storms. Looks like ten in the 30+ years that we’ve been watching. At this time you’ll see nothing, and you’ll hunker down under a rock and wait for it to pass.
Quote from Dr. Tony Phillips: “Because the martian atmosphere is thin–about 1% as dense as Earth’s at sea level–only the smallest dust grains hang in the air. “Airborne dust on Mars is about as fine as cigarette smoke,” says Bell. These fine grains reflect 20% to 25% of the sunlight that hits them; that’s why the clouds look bright. (For comparison, the reflectivity of typical martian terrain is 10% to 15%.)”
- Even looking through smoke is no good for stargazing, so I’d avoid the dust storms altogether. I’ve heard of two big dust storms coming out of Hellas Basin – and I’d avoid all the plains. More research is necessary, but that’s my first shot.
P.S. You’ll have a different North Star, but all the constellations will be the same
Question(s) Two: I’m interested in the concept of Martian tourism. Imagine a lightly developed Mars – you can get up there, there are multiple places you can go to and there’s support for people to stay there, but it’s not all the way ‘tamed’ by any means. What would be the coolest things to do? Of course you have less gravity, extra minutes in the day, and the biggest mountain and canyon in the solar system. Anything jump to mind beyond the obvious?
- Walking up the smooth side of Olympus Mons would be like a stroll in the park – as long as you can keep up the stroll for 375 miles. The grade isn’t even a hike – it’s ADA compliant (you could go up it, easily, in a wheelchair). Now the other side – the scarp – is an ~11km tall vertical cliff. Different story.
- I’d check out the landing sites for the Vikings, Pathfinder, Rovers, and Phoenix. I’d also go on an expedition to see the Beagle crash site.
- Watch out when you’re at the side of Valles Marineris – I’ve heard the winds sweeping over the sides and into the trench could knock you over. I tried to double check that, and came up with nothing though…
- I’d be interested in exploring those fjord/trenches up by the North Pole – they look … interesting.
- Credit: “Fjords” at the North Pole http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/mars/places/mars_poles_image_gallery.html
- “Search for Water” – if we had people there, they could go to those crater walls where we’ve been seeing seepage and figure out for sure what it is. I’ll bet this would be as attractive as dowsing.
- “Chase the Dust Devils” – we don’t understand these even on Earth, and there are tons on Mars.
- The Face on Mars – it’s just a field of rubble, you won’t see anything there, but you could go anyway. (Expedia included this, it’s Activity #6 – Pareidolia Tour! )
- No matter what you’re going to need a warm polar jacket. Like the ones they take to Antarctica.
Question(s) Three: Mars humor. Are there any really great/terrible Mars specific jokes that you are aware of? Or even farther out, general astronomy humor? I’m looking for humor that would be mildly accessible to a layperson but thrilling to a geek.
I don’t have ANYTHING really. My favorite is that HP ad that was on TV where the Martians are printing out the Panorama just as fast as Pathfinder can take the pictures.
- How can you tell Mars isn’t married?
- It doesn’t have a ring.
Classic, can be used for the Moon too:
Person1: Hey, I went to Mars the other day
Person2: Wow! Cool! How was it?
Person1: Meh, there wasn’t much atmosphere ….
Question(s) Four: Any super super cool recent Mars happenings? Any really interesting current mysteries that would be fun to speculate on? (I heard there’s methane emissions going on up there, indicating either geologic or biologic activity…)
- Yeah, that methane is almost certainly geologic. The cool part about it is that it is renewing itself. That means there is a source where something is happening.
- Mars Odyssey successfully rebooted!
- Spirit and Opportunity both had errors recently – but they’re back up and running. This is not unexpected, they’ve lasted 5 years when they were supposed to last 90 days! (I love it when the rover’s solar panels are cleaned by wind )
- We got a beautiful picture of Deimos .
- Lobate flows can be kinda a big deal .
- We found water on Mars!!! (Over and over and over and over again )
Question(s) Five: I’ve seen Yahoo is doing a Mars weather forecast. I need to do more digging myself but do you know anything about where this kind of data might be publicly accessible? (RSS feed would be the BEST.)
- Looks to me like Yahoo’s forecast is static, but here’s one that’s not ! (Here’s where I found that. )
- This is where data is stored about Mars . It takes some effort to get around in, and sometimes it isn’t up to the minute, but this is the archive. As up-to-the-minute as it gets is the raw data from the Mars  Rovers  and Hirise .
~ A l i c e !
Where’d I Get My Info?
This was the original intro to this post. It doesn’t make sense now that Expedia’s not pushing their April Fools site as heavily. (Changed 4/2/2009)
Hello! Welcome newcomers, to Alice’s AstroInfo!
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