Moon and Mars Madness
While Luna swells and brightens the night with her pale magic, Mars the Warrior marches past the earth and glares red-amber as he goes. This lesser god currently outshines the mighty Jupiter himself. The quiet, familiar moon keeps moving through cycles as predictable as the sea's tides, which depend on that same moon to pull them around the earth. But our skies are full of planets this month – Venus sets early, Jupiter follows, Saturn proceeds across the arch and then Mars follows. For those with access to a powerful telescope, even the tiny speck of Mercury can be detected if its location is known. The general viewer won't be able to see it, however.
Not so with Mars. He's anything but elusive! The Red Planet, hanging so huge and brilliant in our July nights, has reached the peak of its opposition to the sun. It's also closer to us than it has been for 15 years and is at its nearest approach in a 2-year orbital cycle as well. Back in 2003, it was the closest it has been in around 60,000 years. "Mars Attack!" indeed, but nothing like the movie. This time around, it's almost but not quite at its 2003 distance. As far as planets are concerned, the War God is in our front yard.
So we have Moon and Mars together on stage. These are two partners in a cosmic dance, because they happen to be present in the same time frame, both very bright. Yet they never interact with each other. Mars is a passerby at the edge of the scene. Luna is engaged in a crowd-rousing waltz with Terra and this will continue until long after we are dust. We can appreciate her radiant presence and celebrate it through all the seasons. Every culture has its own name for each full moon. The Mi'kmaw Moon name for this one is Peskewiku’s, Birds Shedding Feathers. Indeed, with mating season finished and the young well on their way to independence, the adult birds begin their moult. Breeding plumage is replaced by newer growth. Even the riot of song from avian throats has given way to more sedate calls. Summer has reached its height and with it, the lunar cycle waxes toward the full on July 27th.
To honour this special combination of moon and Mars, Tim is offering sessions for viewing them - together with the other visible planets - as they appear in this rather unusual context. Further information can be found through his link on the Homepage. Having attended one of the moon sessions as an ordinary "paying customer", I can emphatically state that here is one heck of a deal - definitely worthwhile and impossible to duplicate. We're treated to a lengthy experience, both at the big telescope and outside under the wider sky. An introductory talk sets the stage for the rest of the show. Tim's breadth of knowledge is remarkable, as is his personal story. And the "star of the evening" isn't a star at all, but our nearest neighbour. Luna never fails to disappoint. I can't adequately convey the sense of awe and wonder I felt when I was able to peer through the eyepiece and zoom in on lunar features that seemed to leap up toward me, in 3D. Craters, ridges, rings within rings, ash streaks, spatters and scree. It's truly jaw-dropping. How does one assign a monetary value to such a vision?
The photo above was taken with my modest Canon 6D, coupled with the 14" scope under Tim's direction. It gives some idea of the moon's impact on an observer, yet nothing compares to being right there, eye pressed to the glass, breath indrawn. The planets are also in attendance as supporting players. Mars, of course, is the second lead. But whereas a full moon comes back month after month, Mars in close opposition isn't your regular display.
The following links provide more detailed information on the Mars phenomenon. It ought to be an amazing week ahead!