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Astr111 Photography Projects, Fall 2005

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Mars, by Anita Rice


Looking up in the night sky at a mysteriously tinted dot, one can easily think, "Goodness! That's bright! What is it?" just as the Babylonians (the first believed to study the point of light in question) or the Egyptians (the first to realize the point was fixed, unlike other stars). If this happened during recent nights (say, for example, around October 22nd, 2005), you may have been viewing the captivating glow of our brother planet, Mars.

Fortunately, with the aid of the Rehoboth telescope in New Mexico, students here at Calvin College may gaze a little more closely at the Red Planet. Alas, the blessed curse of a curious mind and an astronomy course leaves the students in a predicament. They cannot simply gaze, they must know.

Luckily, the very way this picture was formed provides some means to interpreting the planet himself.

First of all, the means to a color picture end (be it on television, through a telescope, or even in your eye) is filtering different colors and then reassembling them. So, when taking pictures of Mars, I instructed it to take 100 exposures at 0.2 seconds a piece of this 20.1 angular sized planet for each color filter—Blue, Red, and Visual (green). Why so many? In order to capture the specific features of the Martian terrain, everything must be perfect, and that doesn’t happen too often. Next, using the RegiStax program, I chose and optimized the best samples of each color. Once the losers had been cut from the team and the core players had bonded together, the championship was in sight. This involved aligning each picture to allow for comparison, kicking out the fuzzy pictures, and finally highlighting certain features by means of contrast and brightness manipulation.

At this point, the most interesting discovery was how different each color portrayed the same planet.

Mars in blue filter

The blue filter showed a brighter edge, a sort of semi-halo, on the left side (left from our vantage that is). As I understand it, this may be the comparably thinner but still present atmosphere. The Martian atmosphere is one NASA really has down pat. They’ve found it to be mainly (95.32%) Carbon Dioxide, with Nitrogen (2.7%), Argon (1.6%), Oxygen (.13%), and water (.03%) following very far behind. This break down leads to another conclusion about why Mars has poles seemingly like our own on Earth. As the Martian temperature can rise to a tepid 68 degrees F, so too can it fall to a slightly chilly -220 degrees F. Thus, the Carbon Dioxide freezes to form dry ice at the polar caps, which the telescope really portrays “upside down,” or with the South Pole at the top of the image. These temperatures are also the method to the madness of the winds pushing all the dust around the planet. Since Carbon Dioxide goes from frozen to vapor as it heats, each “summer” (Martian summer that is) the Carbon Dioxide rushes from its source to its destination—the lower pressure areas, i.e. the opposite pole. This continual rushing about makes it very hard for the winds to stay calm, they’re very fickle things you know.

Mars in green filter

The visual (remember, green) filter is used on Earth mostly to highlight foliage. As most have conceded, there is no vegetation on Mars, so the visual filter in this instance is used solely to balance the color. It’s not easy being visual.

Mars in red filter

The red filter is arguably the most intriguing filter, as it has the ability to display the physical features of the famously red planet. Raise your hand if you thought you’d never see the phrase, “the most intriguing filter.” Anyway, the most visible feature in this particular picture is the dust storm in the Southern hemisphere (remember South is up!) on the Aonia Terra. These dust storms are very common and are concentrated in areas near the poles, where the winds are most severe.

Put 'em together and what have you got? Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!

Well, it doesn’t happen that quickly, but it’s just as magical.

At last, it was time to squish the pictures together, forming the amazing image before you (top). Ah, Mars, il est plus beau.

Itching for more Mars? Visit the following web sites or your local library for more information.

By the way, Happy Birthday, Mommy! It's pretty obvious I chose Mars because it brings back such cozy memories of sitting and waiting so anxiously with you for the little Rover to land. I love you!


http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap051028.html -- For a closer picture of almost exactly what you’ve just seen on this page, visit NASA’s picture of the day!

http://www.solarviews.com/eng/mars.htm --For some sweet images, movies, and breakdowns of your favorite red planet and mine, visit here!

http://www.exploringmars.com/history/ --For a look into Mars’s history and just about the coolest timeline I’ve ever seen, check out the University of California’s Martian siting!

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/ --For some real excitement, ride on the back of NASA’s Mars rover (so cute!)!

Right Ascension (J2000) 03:12:45
Declination (J2000) +16:31:10
Filters used blue(B), green(V), and red(R)
Exposure time per filter 100x .2 seconds in C, 300 seconds in BVR
Date observed

October 22, 2005 (BVR)