Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Last night I stayed in the town where I work (50 mi. from the town where I *live*), in a co-worker's basement (a really nice *finished* basement, with a hideaway bed and a bathroom and everything) so that I could arise to the alarm I'd set for 11 p.m., get dressed and wait outside for another co-worker to come pick me up so we could go to an observatory at a lake on the southwest side of town, to see Mars on the night of its closest brush with Earth.

It worked, we got there (us and about 900 other people, I hope they counted 1,000 before the night was through) and peered at the planet through numerous telescopes, and also saw a REALLY cool movie that the University's astronomy and video production people made. There were a lot of photos of Mars--many *from* Mars, like a jaw-dropping sunset picture! -- that I'd never seen.

They had a globe model of Mars, and I decided instantly that I want one!!! Then I thought, where would I *put* it??? Then I thought, I could move my home office into the basement, there's more room down there. And then: Yeesh! That's a big step! Why didn't I think of that before? I wonder if I should...and decided to save that decision for later, after gathering more info. For the moment, I was there to enjoy MARS!

There were people of all ages there, from babes in arms to elderly folks with walkers. The astronomy profs and grad students were great, I got a big kick out of them. They'd not gotten much sleep so they were a *little* goofy, which was fun, and they displayed that endearing Geeks-Unused-to-This-Much-Attention kind of showing-off that I love.

After my co-worker and I watched the film, I went back to the "big three" telescopes to get in line for the one I hadn't looked through yet. In front of me was a trio of folks fresh from a bar somewhere (the alcohol sensor array in my nasal chemistry lab was blinking red lights like crazy), one guy with a Mohawk (more of my people! Yay!) and a lady with lots of jewelry and only slighty slurred speech, and an enormous, handsome black dude with bald head and earring. He got his turn at the telescope and immediately put his hand on it and leaned all his weight on it--then couldn't find Mars in the lens. That scope's grad student had disappeared (probably best; he would have had a stroke when the guy leaned on his scope!) so I told the man, "If you lean on the scope, it'll jiggle so much you won't be able to see anything. They've provided these stepladders with rounded tops for us to lean on." Oh. OK, he said, and tried again, but all that was in the viewfinder was black space. So when another grad student had finished his current spiel I got his attention, and he re-located the Red Planet.

We stopped on the way back to the parking lot to watch the laptop film loop of Mars scenery digitally-extrapolated from radar elevation readings. *Those* were cool, too. I liked the ones that showed faint mists (of CO2, I presume) rising amid the towers and channels of huge canyons.

I got back to the digs at around 2; I'm tired but not too much more tired than usual. And--it was MARS! It was WORTH IT!

If you have an astronomy club or university or public observatory near you--don't miss this spectacular space show!

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