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Good evening. This is a good time to talk about Mars. The red planet,
possibly the most interesting in the entire solar system,
and the planet least unlike the Earth.
Just a few words about it.
It's the fourth planet out from the sun, smaller than Earth,
but bigger than the moon, has a thin atmosphere, and life?
Well, we don't yet know. Nothing very advanced.
As first views go, you can see the main markings.
The dark areas, the white polar caps, and the red deserts.
There was a time
when the dark markings were thought of as seas and the polar caps
a thin layer of hoar frost,
although they are solidly carbon dioxide.
We know much better now.
I've been drawing Mars and so has Paul Abel.
-Good evening, Paul.
Paul, what have you been seeing?
Some very interesting features on Mars.
When Mars is up close, even your three-inch refractor
will show quite a bit of detail.
-Mars is smaller than Earth.
Further away from the sun, a much longer year,
but it spins quite quickly.
Its day's only half an hour longer than ours.
That's right and this is quite interesting.
If you go out and observe Mars on successive nights,
you get this retro rotation.
To see the whole surface, you need three weeks.
Over the course of those three weeks you'll see four distinct faces.
There's the Syrtis Major region, there's the Sinus Sabaeus region,
the Thatsis region within the geology, and then the dull
and unintersting side with the deserts in.
I think perhaps the most striking feature on Mars
-must be the Syrtis Major.
-Oh, yes. Was once called the Hourglass Sea.
-Also named the Kaiser Sea.
-It was indeed.
But Syrtis Major is quite a stark contrast feature on the planet Mars.
It was one of the first recorded observations.
Christiaan Huygens recorded Syrtis Major in 1659.
I've seen it easily with your three-inch refractor
and a good telescope will show progressively more.
Huygens, of course, didn't know what it was. It's a plateau.
It is a plateau, yes.
As you said earlier on, the earlier thinking
was that these dark places on Mars where thought to be vegetation.
-We now know that's not true.
-We must mention the Martian canal.
Percival Lowell, he used a big telescope, which I've used myself.
So have I. The Lowell is a great telescope.
And he drew Mars, and he drew straight,
artificial-looking lines which he believed were canals
dug by intelligent Martians.
He did, he did. Sadly, he was fooled, wasn't he? His eyesight...
Clearly tricks of the eye.
Moving away from Syrtis Major, we have
that lovely, curving feature, Sinus Sabaeus.
-That's a beauty.
-A lovely feature.
And then just next to that, we have one of my favourite regions,
which is Mare Acidalium and Erythraeum
and, of course, the Chryse region, which we think
may have been a sea at one point.
-And don't forget Hellas.
In the early days,
it was thought Hellas was an enormously bright peak.
A snow-covered peak.
-Now it's a deep plateau.
-The deepest basin on Mars.
From the Northern region, it can look like an extra polar cap.
It can, especially when the Northern hemisphere is well presented.
Hellas can look very bright indeed. Next, we have the Tharsis region.
-There we have the great volcanoes.
Olympus Mons is visible in your 15-inch reflector.
We didn't know what it was.
No, but know we know it's one of the large volcanoes.
No one knew that before the first spacecraft went there.
The first really good close-up view was obtained in 1970.
Three times the height of Everest.
-And you get this lovely sort of W shaped or M shaped cloud regions that form.
-The great question is,
are they active now? They are certainly dormant,
they may be extinct, but I'm not too sure about that.
-Hopefully spacecraft of the future will let us know.
-Not active now.
Volcanoes on Mars are very tall and very massive because there are no great tectonics there.
-On Earth, the volcanoes sit on great tectonics, but on Mars they don't.
One of the interesting things, as much as the drawings reveal a lot of the structre, you yourself made maps,
lots of people made maps of the Martian surface. The spacecraft really revealed the geology of Mars.
For example, in the Tharsis region we have this enormous grand canyon region that goes through Tharsis.
-A huge thing.
-You could fit most of America in it, it's an unbelievable place.
I've been observing Mars for many years, from my own observatory
and from some of the world's largest telescopes, including Lowell's.
But you can also see a good deal with much smaller telescopes.
And on Hampstead Heath, there's a nice little observatory
open to the public where there is a six-inch refractor,
and it's very popular.
Quite recently, Pete and Paul paid a visit there.
OK, so here we are in London.
Who'd have thought you've got a big observatory like this
-in the middle of London?
-Good, isn't it?
-Did Patrick come here?
-He did. I think in '57.
He came here to make some Mars drawings
with a six-inch Cooke refractor. Very good for planetary drawings.
Absolutely perfect. If it's clear tonight, we might get a view of Jupiter, as well.
Doug Daniels is president of the Hampstead Scientific Society,
which has been looking at the stars and planets since 1910.
The observatory is run by volunteers and relies on donations
to keep it going.
It's open to the public from September to April,
two nights a week and a Sunday morning.
And, of course, the planets are very popular.
Mars has been a particular fascination
and Hampstead astronomers have been observing it for the past 100 years.
-And there it is.
-Oh, isn't that fantastic?
-It's lovely, isn't it?
-We've clear skies.
-We should see the planets tonight.
-You think so?
-You're never prepared.
-I know, I'm hopeless. After you.
-Thanks for inviting us.
-Nice to see you.
-So you're in charge of this magnificent instrument?
Yes, I've been in charge for more years than I care to remember.
It's a lovely six inch refracter. Can you tell us when it was first established?
Well, the optimum tube assembly itself was built by Thomas Cooke of York in about 1899,
and it was presented to the society by a generous member, George Avenell, in 1923.
The observatory itself was established on this site in 1910,
-so last year we celebrated the centenary.
It has always been part of our brief to open this observatory to members of the public,
so that they get access to an astronomical telescope, and we've been doing that
on clear Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings,
and we've been doing that for 100 years now.
So you've covered a lot of astronomical events. Haley's Comet, Shoemaker Levy 9.
Haley's Comet was seen twice from this observatory, the orignal pass in 1910,
and then in 1986, when we had about 1,000 people queueing up in the freezing cold to see it.
Generally speaking, we use the telescope now
for looking at solar system objects, the moon and planets.
-Later on, hopefully, we'll see Jupiter.
-That would be fantastic.
-The sky is clear.
-Hopefully it stays that way.
Unfortunately, we won't see Mars, because that doesn't rise here
-until quite early in the morning.
-I noticed earlier you had a logbook
with some wonderful old Mars drawings.
-Can we have a look at them?
-Yes, you can.
-We have drawings dating right the way back to 1910.
And there are some reports and everything else there.
Look at the colour of these. They're superb, aren't they?
Thank you very much. Those two are mine.
Oh, well done! Very good!
It's not surprising that mars is so interesting, because it's the only planet int he solar system
-apart from ours that we can see the surface of.
-Absolutely! And it's very similar to the Earth.
-In some ways.
-A day is similar to us, it has seasons.
-Hopefully we'll catch Jupiter later on.
-With any luck.
And we'll get a good view, this telescope gives good definition on planets.
'While we wait for night to fall and Jupiter to rise,
'Pete and I have some fun things for you to look at over November.'
-Oh, it's definitely a bit nippy.
-How about here?
Jupiter is the obvious thing we should mention first, Pete.
Very, very bright object.
It's incredibly bright and if you go out sort of
in the later part of the night, there it is, very high up,
very prominent in the sky.
It was at opposition at the end of October and that's the point
when it's actually in the opposite part of the sky to the sun.
And quite a good opposition.
That's approximately about a 30th of the diameter of the moon.
-That's quite impressive for a planet.
-It's still quite impressive.
Some very fascinating details on Jupiter.
The great red spot's quite prominent.
-The southern equatorial belt's come back.
-We've got these storms.
We've got these amazing bargees.
-Very dark spots.
-Dark spots which have been spread out.
There's some very prominent ones in the north equatorial belt.
Very interesting objects.
It's an amazing planet to look at, it really is.
Well, that's Jupiter. Moving on now to Mars.
Mars is making a bit of a comeback in the night sky. You have a nice event
-you've picked out for us.
-Well, we think it's nice.
-It is nice.
It's actually quite striking, because what's going to happen
is Mars is going to move very close to the bright star
in Leo the lion, which is Regulus.
Regulus sits at the bottom of a backward question mark
of stars known as The Sickle, so that's quite easy to identify it.
Both Regulus and Mars will be about the same brightness
and get really close on the morning of the 11th, so you have to get up
in the early morning, about 5.30am, if you can face that.
There's no real cosmic significance, but what really stands out
-is the contrasting colour.
-Yes, of course.
Because Mars looks very red and Regulus looks sort of whitey-blue.
It's really striking when they're close together.
I've never seen that grouping before.
-Definitely worth seeing.
-A photographic opportunity there.
So early morning of the 11th. You'll see it several days either side
and it'll look really impressive.
I'll keep a look out for that.
-Moving on, we have the planet Saturn.
-It's coming back.
And it's well-tilted, so the rings are really well on display.
It's tilted by about 14 degrees,
so that means it's the north pole of the planet has been tilted over,
and the rings appear to open up to us.
Over the last year or so, they've been looking really quite thin.
-But now they're really quite chunky.
Of course, we had that storm, didn't we?
-The Dragon Storm.
-Oh, that was amazing.
It spread right the way around the planet.
It looked beautiful in blue light.
What will the legacy of that storm be?
-It's always worth having a look.
100 years ago, Hampstead was a lovely dark site, clear of London smog.
But now light pollution is a challenge for the astronomers.
But that does not put off the observatory regulars,
who wander in to see the planets and our moon.
Jon Culshaw is a local and has come to find out more
about his favourite planet, Mars.
-Ah, there you are.
-Oh, Jon Culshaw.
Let me deactivate this.
-My own portable light pollution.
-Works very well, Jon.
-How are you doing?
-This is your stomping ground, isn't it?
-Yes, this is.
This is my local observatory. Great to have you here.
What a fantastic telescope to have access to.
-And a wonderful clear night as well.
-It is. Jupiter's peeking up.
Yes, as if it's reported for duty.
-PATRICK MOORE IMPRESSION:
-I'm very happy about that. Yes, very happy.
-And of course, we're getting ready for the return of Mars.
Looking at Mars through a telescope,
it's often quite a disappointing thing to look at
first time out. I remember my first view of Mars,
I thought my telescope was broken, I have to say.
What you get is this sort of pinkish blob.
Yes, it can be fuzzy, can't it?
You don't see much details on it. You really have to let your eye
get in with Mars. Also, if you've got your own telescope
and you keep it in the living room, or the kitchen,
you need to take it outside and give it time to cool down.
That's the biggest hurdle a lot of people fall over at.
When it's warm, you get air currents inside it
and that makes the view fuzzy, as well.
When you do that, If you get a really good, stable viewing,
Mars is high up and you've let the telescope cool down,
that's when you can get this beautiful view of Mars
which almost looks like it's a sketch that's been cut out of a book
and stuck on the end of the telescope!
But you've seen Mars through this?
I do remember one view, about 18 months ago,
when the view of Mars looked just like those early diagrams.
-The polar caps, the canals. I love it when it looks like that.
-You didn't see canals, Jon.
-The formations that were mistaken for it.
From a distance, you'd think a visitor
from another world would see the Earth and Mars
and imagine it was hot and cold.
'Well, we won't be seeing Mars tonight, as it's not appearing
'until three in the morning.
'Outside, astronomers gather to enjoy the clear sky.
'We may even have a glimpse
'of our nearest galaxy, Andromeda or M31.'
-Oh, it's a cold night, isn't it?
-So what are you looking for?
-Well, we're looking for M31, but...
-Nothing like optimism!
Well, this is a substantial instrument. What size is it?
-This is a six-inch refractor.
-Can I have a look?
-Let's have a look.
Are you sure?
Yeah, I can just about make it out, actually.
It's still there.
-It's John, isn't it?
-Nice to see you.
-Nice to see you. I have to say,
-this does not look like a standard telescope!
-No, this is one I made myself.
-Over a period of about six months.
This is the telescope that introduced me to Saturn, so...
It's the first thing I saw through it.
I've been wandering about the observatory site
and look what I've found. The most enormous pair of binoculars.
-They really are quite large, aren't they, Kevin?
Can I have a look? What have we got?
We've got the double cluster in Perseus.
Oh, and we have! Quite, quite beautiful.
and I think one of the amazing things
looking at an object like that through binoculars
is this amazing wide view that you get.
You do get an enormous field of view.
Some great view of the moon, and the star clusters of the Milky Way.
-No observing site would be complete
-without a pair of binoculars, Kevin.
Well, we've got Jupiter in the sky.
The telescope's trained onto it and by the magic of Pete Lawrence,
it is now on the television screen.
-That's quite an impressive image, isn't it?
-Certainly is, certainly is.
-Yes, live from the scene of Jupiter.
There's lots of detail. There's those two main belts which are easily visible.
-If we'd looked last year, one belt would have been missing.
-The south equatorial belt had vanished
but it's back with a vengeance.
-It's a nice view.
-Does that compare with the views you normally get up here?
-We feel spoiled with how bright Jupiter is.
-Yes, it's marvellous.
I've been wondering very recently, Jupiter and the moon
-always seem to have been close together.
-For a few days now, yes.
-Like they're working together.
-Jupiter can stand the moonlight.
You see that really bright dot next to the moon in the sky.
It's really very impressive.
Even with binoculars, you can see the wonderful moons.
You can, yeah.
-The little pinpricks of light.
Here's a little tip. With a pair of binoculars, it's sometimes difficult
to hold them still, especially when cold, so you can see moons clearly.
If you've got a broom, a nice, clean broom, you put it with the handle
on the ground and you can rest the binoculars on the broom.
-That is such a great tip.
-That broom will be riddled with spiders
and it will be absolutely appalling.
-Thanks for coming. Great to have you.
-Thanks for inviting us.
-It's been fantastic.
'Pete and I have had a great time at Hampstead.
'It's free to the public
'and well worth going to see the wonders of the night sky.
'You can find your local observatory or society
'by looking at our website.'
Don't forget our Sky At Night Flickr site.
If you take any images of Mars over the next month, post them up
and we'll take a look.
Well, telescopes tell us a great deal.
But don't forget, Mars never comes much within 35 million miles of us,
so we're bound to be limited. We need spacecraft,
and unmanned probes being sent there.
Some of these have crawled around the surface.
But later on this month, a new probe, Curiosity,
is going to blast off and land on Mars.
It's a very complicated probe indeed.
There was a gathering of planetary scientists.
Sadly, I couldn't get there, but Chris Lintott could
and he's been enquiring about the Curiosity rover.
Nantes in France, a large trading port near the sea,
with the River Loire running through it.
It's a wonderful time for anyone
who's interested in exploring our solar system.
We've got probes around Mercury and Vesta.
We've got missions all over Mars.
Cassini's still at Saturn and there's even a probe,
New Horizons, on the way to Pluto.
And to discuss the flood of data that they're all sending back,
1,500 of the world's leading planetary scientists have come here to Nantes.
It's the largest gathering of them since the days of Apollo.
'The solar system is full of new and exciting stories,
'but the reason I'm here is to find out what's happening on Mars.'
The very first rover to land on Mars was this little thing.
This is Sojourner, that landed in the mid-'90s.
But things have moved on since then.
We've got Spirit and Opportunity.
Opportunity's still going strong,
reaching Endeavour crater not so long ago.
And then come over here. Look at this big beast.
This is a full-scale replica of Curiosity,
the next rover to land on Mars.
It's going to change everything we know
about science on the red planet.
NASA's latest rover,
originally called the Mars Science Laboratory,
has been renamed Curiosity.
And it is an impressive machine.
Weighing in at almost a tonne, it has a nuclear generator on board,
which keeps it warm, so it can work day and night,
even throughout the cold Martian winter.
I hope the science team can keep up with it.
It's too big to bounce onto the surface in an airbag,
and that means a spectacular landing, complete with rockets
and a hovering platform. It's really scary stuff.
Mars isn't an easy place, even for the most well-prepared explorer,
and so the engineers have been testing Curiosity not only for that landing,
but also for the extreme temperatures that it has to endure.
Curiosity's essentially a roving geologist
and a laboratory,
and it's looking for evidence of conditions
that could have supported life.
ChemCam sits on top of the mast and has a telescope, a camera
and a new addition, a laser, which will vaporise rocks from a distance.
Sylvestre Maurice has spent ten years developing ChemCam
and simply can't wait to get to Mars and start zapping rocks.
How do you choose where on Mars to go?
It's a big planet and you've only got one of these.
-So, where are we going and why are we going there?
-Where to go?
We look at this wonderful planet, and say, where do I want to go?
Engineers say, "Guys, this is too cold, don't even try, too cold, you don't try," so you stay here.
There's a big mountain here called Olympus Mons -
-here it is. They say, "Don't even try here, it's too high."
This part here, Hellas, is too low and so the engineers
-reduce the number of possible sites because they want somewhere where they can land.
It needs to be flat, no wind, not too many rocks, not too high altitude,
-not too cold, not too hot.
-So where are we landing?
Where are we landing on the planet? It's the crater called Gale.
It's a big crater but what's interesting,
you have a nice landing ellipse on the bottom.
-How big's the crater?
-About 50 kilometres. It's a big crater.
-So the edge will be over the horizon?
-Yes, but there's a peak.
When you form a crater, a crater is formed by an impact coming from there and the impact smashes.
So, this is an impact crater, not a volcanic one?
It's an impact crater, expels a lot of things
and there's always at the centre a rebound
because of some pressure effect and that creates some sort of peak.
-Like you see on the moon?
-On the moon you see many of them.
It's like climbing the Grand Canyon. As you climb on, you're going to see different histories.
'Silvestre's laser will analyse its surroundings quickly so that Curiosity
'doesn't have to waste its time on less interesting rocks.
'It's on a mission to find evidence that Mars was once a very watery world.
'The ChemCam team want to find really old rocks, billions of years old,
'from Mars's ancient past, when water might well have been in abundance.'
In the past ten years, we've completely changed our view of Mars.
-We know that there was water there once.
-We know there was water
but let's be honest, we know that for the last three billion years nothing happened on Mars.
-Kind of a boring place.
-There are people who'd argue the volcanoes are recent, though?
Maybe, the volcanoes, Tarsis, and Olympus, and the axis doing that and that,
climate, a lot of stuff happened, but these are small.
-This is old terrain?
-Yeah, and it's ceased happening.
The real good stuff, we know now it happened between the origin of Mars, in 4.5...
-Same as the Earth, roughly?
-Yeah, about the same as the Earth. ..and 3.5, the first billion years.
If you went back 3.5 billion years, Mars would look more like Earth than it does today.
Yeah, and the big news we've got also from earth scientists is that we think that on Earth,
during this first billion years, had water, atmosphere and life.
We have another one that now we know but in its past has probably the condition
exactly the same as Earth at the same time.
Those Martian oceans are long gone along with the rest of the thick Martian atmosphere,
lost thanks to Mars's weak gravitational pull.
Some water still survives, particularly under the surface,
but that, on its own, is not all that's needed to support life.
It's a combination of physical condition, temperature,
pressure, water, is the water liquid or not? And then...
-And how long was it liquid for?
-Exactly, and then do you have the elements to do that,
-do you have the organics, you have carbon? We call them the CHNOPS.
-You know the CHNOPS?
-Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, phosphor and sulphur.
-You get the CHNOPS, you get life.
'Curiosity is trying to track down evidence of CHNOPS in the rocks.
'If those elements were present in Mars's early history,
'life may well have formed. But we want to know also
'if the conditions that can support life are there today.
'The polar caps freeze and melt with the seasons, but it's very, very cold.
'This eye in the Martian sky is Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
'and it's picked up very subtle changes on steep slopes near the equator.
'Candice Hansen works on its camera, HiRISE,
'and believes what they're seeing is evidence of flowing, briny water.'
So what we see are dark streaks that go down-slope.
They are dark to begin with,
which you would expect if they're fluid of some sort.
-So darker because if you wet sand or something, it gets darker.
So what we think that we are seeing is liquid brine - very salty water.
It's always in the summertime and in locations that have them,
you'll see thousands of them.
'So every Martian summer, salty water is unfreezing and creating mini-flows when it's warm.
'Mars isn't a dead place but a living, breathing, changing world.
'Seeing channels of water in the equatorial regions is
'one of the most exciting discoveries on Mars so far
'and the implications of flowing water are immense.'
You know, here on Earth, if you find water,
you find something swimming in it.
'Methane is a hydrocarbon gas
'that's very much associated with life here on Earth,
'but which also breaks down in the atmosphere very quickly.
'On Mars, we've found methane in the atmosphere and so something,
'either volcanic activity of some sort or even life,
'must be producing it.
'Jonathan is an astrobiologist
'who'd like to find some evidence of life on other worlds.'
If you want to look for life today it's actually much more difficult,
because most people think that life on Mars
exists deep down in the crust if it exists at all,
where the liquid water is persistent.
Mars, billions of years ago,
almost certainly had large amounts of liquid water.
That was one of the great discoveries
of the Spirit and Opportunity missions.
But Mars today is dry
and liquid water on the surface exists for short times.
So, you would have to go down maybe kilometres through the crust
to actually find that life.
I'd say that's incredibly difficult.
It is - we're not going to do it between now and the next DPS meeting.
But, there's one caveat to this, which is that methane
appears to be present in the atmosphere of Mars.
Methane in the Martian atmosphere,
very unstable, is chemically eaten up very quickly,
so something is actively producing it.
There are two possibilities.
One is it's produced by geological processes.
-That's one possibility.
The other is that it has something to do with life.
But in the case of Mars,
what you could do is you could go find the sources of methane,
you could look at what are called the isotopes of the carbon,
and life favours the light carbon.
There will be a difference in the ratio of the heavy to light carbon
in the methane than in all the other sources of carbon on Mars,
for example, carbon dioxide.
If there's a strong signature of that,
that would be a very good indication that biology was somehow involved.
'Thanks to the fleet of spacecraft now exploring Mars,
'we're getting an excellent understanding of the planet's chemistry,
'both in the atmosphere and on the ground.
'Curiosity's SAM instrument is a mobile chemistry lab
'capable of analysing soil collected by the rover's robotic arm.
'The previous landers, Viking and Phoenix, both analyse soil samples,
'but the results have been difficult to interpret,
'reminding us that Mars is an alien world which we barely understand.
'The steady flow of discoveries about Mars
'expands our knowledge of the red planet.
'Each successive mission takes us further in our quest to find out
'whether life has existed on Mars and whether it's still there today.'
Next month, we're going to visit the Alpha solar system.
We've also got something rather special for you -
we've found a lost Sky At Night programme going back to 1963,
which is a rather young me talking to someone whom we remember,
known as Arthur C Clarke.
I think you'll enjoy this!
Now, I'm talking about moon bases tonight for two reasons.
First, because they are very topical
and we've just shown you one new design study.
But secondly, because I'm delighted to have with me my old friend
Arthur, you, of course, were forecasting developments
of this kind more than 20 years ago.
Thank you, Pat.
Until then, good night.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
As Mars returns to the night skies, Sir Patrick Moore discusses its four faces. Dr Chris Lintott travels to Nantes in France to a world gathering of planetary scientists to find out about Curiosity - the NASA mission which will soon leave for the red planet, in search of signs of life.