Mars Watch

My experience in showing individuals planets through a telescope tells me that when it comes to viewing our solar system planets, Saturn is number 1. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that it’s the rings that make it so popular. Jupiter comes in second, with its equatorial bands and Galilean moons, visible with almost any telescope. And, of course, if you have a large aperture scope, you may catch a glimpse of the Great Red Spot. Venus seems to come in third due to being able to view it in phases, like the Moon. Uranus and Neptune look like small blue-green dots, unimpressive except for the color. Mars isn’t much better; its closer, but because It’s smaller, there’s not much difference except for the reddish color, unless you have a large aperture scope. The best you get with small scopes, is its reddish color.

Well, suppose we move Mars up the list. How can we do that? Actually, we can’t, but Mars itself can, and will, I’m sure. On July 27th, 2018, Mars will be at opposition with Earth. This means that Mars will be in a nearly direct line with the Earth and the Sun. Not only will it be at opposition, but it will be closer to Earth than it has been since 2003, but only by 1.2 million miles. And it won’t be this close again until 2035 and then again in 2050.

So, what’s the big deal? Why the excitement? Just this: Mars will be close enough to see surface details with “large” (14” & up) amateur telescopes. Details like the polar caps and possibly, dust devils.






On Mars, the polar caps are made of water ice, like here on Earth, but also includes frozen carbon dioxide, unlike Earth. But they both look pretty much the same. Now, what about the dust devils? They can be up to 1/2 mile high and 800+ ft. across @ 102 MPH. But don’t think they are similar to tornadoes. Tornadoes form from storm clouds, dust devils don’t. Actually, dust devils have been seen in the deserts of Earth and they form under the same conditions, without storm clouds, under clear skies.

Now that you know what to look for, and when, let me tell you where you can go to see it “up close and personal”. The Imperial Polk Astronomical Society will be at the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, FL on July 28, 2018 with a presentation about the event starting at 7:00 pm and, weather permitting, our telescopes’ “focal point” (pun intended) will be Mars, but we’ll focus our scopes on other celestial objects also.

Please note that seating is limited and will be by registration (ticket) only. Please visit to get you tickets. Type “Mars Watch” in the search box,  click “Mars Watch” in the drop down box, then click “REGISTER” for your tickets.

There is no cost. So register now to make sure you get a seat.

Solar Cycle Nearing Minimum

Updated June 10, 2018:

Has anyone noticed anything different about the Sun? Anything unusual? Well, there’s nothing different, nothing unusual. The Sun is just going through its normal cycle. So, if you’ve looked lately, you’ve probably noticed that Sunspots are becoming rarer. The Sun goes through cycles. These cycles are measured by the number of Sunspots seen on the Sun’s surface, that is, the Earth-facing side. Each cycle lasts for about 11 years, with slight variations of time in each cycle.

The solar cycle was discovered in 1843 by Samuel Heinrich Schwabe, and using other observations, reconstructed the cycle back to 1745. Prior cycles were reconstructed from observations going back as far as Galileo and others in the early 1600’s. We are presently in cycle 24.  Right now, the Sunspot number is decreasing, and it has been for some time. Let’s look at the numbers.

Cycle 24 peaked in April, 2014 with 101 Sunspots, the weakest in a hundred years. There was only 1 day in 2014 with no Sunspots. 2015 had 0 spotless days. 2016 had 32 spotless days. 2017 had 104 spotless day. As of June 13 of 2018, there have been 87 spotless days this year, yielding a yearly percentage of 53% so far. The last “spotless” days stretch, ending June 12, was 7 days. So far, this “spotless days” stretch is 5 days. The minimum is expected to “peak” in 2019-2020.

But even with this minimum, there is still activity to be observed. There are still the occasional flares and CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections). And then there are the “holes” in the Sun’s atmosphere that let stronger than normal streams of solar wind, charged particles, target the Earth’s atmosphere and produce those awesome auroras in the high latitudes. So if you have a solar telescope, keep watching, it’s not hopeless.

Keep checking back, we’ll keep you updated weekly.