Fremont Peak Public Mars Night Observing, 8/28/03

by Peter Natscher


The transparency last night at Fremont Peak was so good that the beautiful razor-thin 1.1 day old moon was just visually superb hanging just above the tree line to the west at dusk. This sight was a wonderful start for an eventful evening at Fremont Peak!

This was my first evening in which I close to set up on one of the new park observing pads. These pads worked out to be very functional for all of us using them. They are level, powered up with 120 Vac and spacious enough for two mid-sized telescopes per pad. The surface material for the pads was explained by the park's engineer/designer to be a special mix of concrete and tree oils, for bio-degradability. I still don't like the brightness of the red lights, though. They're designed to be bright enough for the safety of the visiting public on public nights at the observatory, but for deep sky observing on non-public nights, they're too bright and hinder dark sky adaptation. Perhaps, a variable rheostat can be added in-line to the lights to lower the light intensity at will, per pad.

The seeing last night while observing Mars was variable. Between fuzzy periods of seeing, my AP 10" f/14.6 Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope provided me and a 100+ others more Martian surface detail than could be remembered or sketched. I was using the Zeiss/Baaader Bino with two Takahashi 12.5mm LE (Long Eye Relief) eyepieces, which are easy for the general public to look into. I also screwed on each eyepiece a Baader Moon and Sky Glow filter for a contrast improvement. This setup provided 370X which was adequate for the seeing.

At midnight, the side of Mars that was facing us was located at CM 50 (central meridian of Mars). The darker surface features named Mare Erythraeum, Solis Lacus, Aurora Sinus, Sinus Meridiani, and the large Mare Acidalium regions showed clearly with so much mottling detail from within these areas. No canals connecting these features were noticed. All of these areas together appeared to me as a large dark tarantula spanning the face of Mars.

From the observatory, the distant Santa Clare Complex fire to the north (east of Mt. Hamilton) was crowning on top of the mountains exhibiting tall bright orange flames. I'm wondering if the Mars God had anything to do with that.