‘Red Planet’ visible to naked eye in evening

By DaShanda Mosley

Once again, the “red planet” is in sight to the human eye and a pair of binoculars may allow a clear view.

Every couple of years, Mars comes close enough to Earth for viewing and it appears its brightest. The last time was August 2003.

“Mars is rising in the early evening,” said assistant physics professor Michael Fortner. “It will be bright for some time, so any clear evening is good to see it. You will be able to tell that it is Mars because of its reddish hue.”

Mars makes its closest approach to Earth about every two years because it takes two years to go around the sun, said Andrew Morrison, former observatory manager and graduate physics major.

“It’s always exciting, but it was more exciting in 2003 because not only was Mars this close to the Earth, but Earth also was as close to the sun as it could possibly be,” Morrison said.

The NIU Observatory, located in Davis Hall on the seventh floor, offers a location to view Mars using equipment including a 14-inch telescope and an 85-mm refracting telescope.

The observatory is free for students and open Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 9 to 11 p.m. April through October and 8 to 10 p.m. November through March.

This month, Mars has risen a little earlier than 10:30 p.m. No special hours have been added to view Mars in the observatory.

“Mars is not that close to us at the moment, and it will not get as close as it did in 2003, but we should be able to see some of Mars’ polar ice caps in the telescope,” said observatory manager Liz Holden.

“A more interesting sight of planets is on Sept. 1, when Venus and Jupiter appear right next to each other in the Western sky at dusk,” Fortner said. “This also occurs every few years and was last seen in 1999.”