‘MarsWatch’ events planned around area

EYE ON THE SKY — SMART Centre Market co-owner Robert Strong shows some of the telescopes used at MarsWatch events. -- Scott McCloskey

This summer is the closest the planet Mars has been to Earth since 2003.

The astronomical event has prompted Robert Strong, owner of SMART Centre Market, and the Near Earth Object Foundation to host a series of special “MarsWatch” events through mid-October at several locations in the Ohio Valley.

Strong said the event is specifically devoted to viewing the planet Mars telescopically. The next time Mars will be this close to Earth will be in 2035, he said. Strong said while they already have hosted 12 watch events that began in mid-July, they still have 15 more scheduled through Oct. 19.

The events begin at 8 p.m. and are held at Grand Vue Park in Moundsville, Brooke Hills Park near Wellsburg, Barkcamp State Park near Belmont and SMART Centre Market at 30 22nd St., Wheeling. Strong said Grand Vue Park will be the site of watch events from 8-10 p.m. every Saturday through Oct.13. He said even if it rains or the skies are cloudy, they still will host educational programs centered around the rust-colored planet on the scheduled dates and locations.

“Back on Aug. 27, 2003, the planet Mars through the celestial dance that Earth and Mars do, was the closest it had been to the Earth for something just slightly over 58,000 years — and it was a big deal,” Strong said.

While Mars was closest in its orbit to Earth at a distance of 35.8 million miles at the end of July, Strong said the planet still continues to be bright in the sky on clear nights when light and dark “patches” on the planet are visible with a good telescope.

“We should be able to see the icy polar caps … through one of our telescopes at about 75x,” Strong said.

He said through one of his telescopes, Mars will appear about the same size as the full moon appears in the sky with the unaided eye.

“So you will be able to see light and dark features,” he said.

The next event is scheduled from 8-10 p.m. Saturday at Grand Vue Park. To view the entire list of scheduled events, visit neofoundation.org.

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