Curious About Mars The Sky at Night


Curious About Mars

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Good evening. This is a good time to talk about Mars. The red planet,

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possibly the most interesting in the entire solar system,

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and the planet least unlike the Earth.

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Just a few words about it.

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It's the fourth planet out from the sun, smaller than Earth,

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but bigger than the moon, has a thin atmosphere, and life?

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Well, we don't yet know. Nothing very advanced.

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As first views go, you can see the main markings.

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The dark areas, the white polar caps, and the red deserts.

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There was a time

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when the dark markings were thought of as seas and the polar caps

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a thin layer of hoar frost,

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although they are solidly carbon dioxide.

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We know much better now.

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I've been drawing Mars and so has Paul Abel.

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-Good evening, Paul.

-Hi, Patrick.

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Paul, what have you been seeing?

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Some very interesting features on Mars.

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When Mars is up close, even your three-inch refractor

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will show quite a bit of detail.

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-Mars is smaller than Earth.

-Yeah.

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Further away from the sun, a much longer year,

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but it spins quite quickly.

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Its day's only half an hour longer than ours.

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That's right and this is quite interesting.

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If you go out and observe Mars on successive nights,

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you get this retro rotation.

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To see the whole surface, you need three weeks.

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Over the course of those three weeks you'll see four distinct faces.

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There's the Syrtis Major region, there's the Sinus Sabaeus region,

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the Thatsis region within the geology, and then the dull

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and unintersting side with the deserts in.

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I think perhaps the most striking feature on Mars

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-must be the Syrtis Major.

-Oh, yes. Was once called the Hourglass Sea.

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-Also named the Kaiser Sea.

-It was indeed.

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But Syrtis Major is quite a stark contrast feature on the planet Mars.

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It was one of the first recorded observations.

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Christiaan Huygens recorded Syrtis Major in 1659.

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I've seen it easily with your three-inch refractor

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and a good telescope will show progressively more.

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Huygens, of course, didn't know what it was. It's a plateau.

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It is a plateau, yes.

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As you said earlier on, the earlier thinking

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was that these dark places on Mars where thought to be vegetation.

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-We now know that's not true.

-We must mention the Martian canal.

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Percival Lowell, he used a big telescope, which I've used myself.

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So have I. The Lowell is a great telescope.

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And he drew Mars, and he drew straight,

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artificial-looking lines which he believed were canals

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dug by intelligent Martians.

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He did, he did. Sadly, he was fooled, wasn't he? His eyesight...

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Clearly tricks of the eye.

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Moving away from Syrtis Major, we have

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that lovely, curving feature, Sinus Sabaeus.

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-That's a beauty.

-A lovely feature.

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And then just next to that, we have one of my favourite regions,

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which is Mare Acidalium and Erythraeum

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and, of course, the Chryse region, which we think

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may have been a sea at one point.

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-And don't forget Hellas.

-Hellas.

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In the early days,

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it was thought Hellas was an enormously bright peak.

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A snow-covered peak.

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-Now it's a deep plateau.

-The deepest basin on Mars.

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From the Northern region, it can look like an extra polar cap.

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It can, especially when the Northern hemisphere is well presented.

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Hellas can look very bright indeed. Next, we have the Tharsis region.

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-There we have the great volcanoes.

-Absolutely.

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Olympus Mons is visible in your 15-inch reflector.

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We didn't know what it was.

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No, but know we know it's one of the large volcanoes.

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No one knew that before the first spacecraft went there.

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The first really good close-up view was obtained in 1970.

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Three times the height of Everest.

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-And you get this lovely sort of W shaped or M shaped cloud regions that form.

-The great question is,

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are they active now? They are certainly dormant,

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they may be extinct, but I'm not too sure about that.

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-Hopefully spacecraft of the future will let us know.

-Not active now.

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Volcanoes on Mars are very tall and very massive because there are no great tectonics there.

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-No.

-On Earth, the volcanoes sit on great tectonics, but on Mars they don't.

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One of the interesting things, as much as the drawings reveal a lot of the structre, you yourself made maps,

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lots of people made maps of the Martian surface. The spacecraft really revealed the geology of Mars.

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For example, in the Tharsis region we have this enormous grand canyon region that goes through Tharsis.

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-A huge thing.

-You could fit most of America in it, it's an unbelievable place.

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I've been observing Mars for many years, from my own observatory

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and from some of the world's largest telescopes, including Lowell's.

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But you can also see a good deal with much smaller telescopes.

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And on Hampstead Heath, there's a nice little observatory

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open to the public where there is a six-inch refractor,

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and it's very popular.

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Quite recently, Pete and Paul paid a visit there.

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OK, so here we are in London.

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Who'd have thought you've got a big observatory like this

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-in the middle of London?

-Good, isn't it?

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-Did Patrick come here?

-He did. I think in '57.

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He came here to make some Mars drawings

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with a six-inch Cooke refractor. Very good for planetary drawings.

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Absolutely perfect. If it's clear tonight, we might get a view of Jupiter, as well.

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Doug Daniels is president of the Hampstead Scientific Society,

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which has been looking at the stars and planets since 1910.

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The observatory is run by volunteers and relies on donations

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to keep it going.

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It's open to the public from September to April,

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two nights a week and a Sunday morning.

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And, of course, the planets are very popular.

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Mars has been a particular fascination

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and Hampstead astronomers have been observing it for the past 100 years.

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-And there it is.

-Oh, isn't that fantastic?

-It's lovely, isn't it?

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-We've clear skies.

-We should see the planets tonight.

-You think so?

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-It's cold.

-You're never prepared.

-I know, I'm hopeless. After you.

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-Hello, Doug.

-Hello, Paul.

-Thanks for inviting us.

-Hello, Doug.

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-Nice to see you.

-So you're in charge of this magnificent instrument?

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Yes, I've been in charge for more years than I care to remember.

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It's a lovely six inch refracter. Can you tell us when it was first established?

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Well, the optimum tube assembly itself was built by Thomas Cooke of York in about 1899,

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and it was presented to the society by a generous member, George Avenell, in 1923.

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The observatory itself was established on this site in 1910,

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-so last year we celebrated the centenary.

-Fantastic.

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It has always been part of our brief to open this observatory to members of the public,

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so that they get access to an astronomical telescope, and we've been doing that

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on clear Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings,

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and we've been doing that for 100 years now.

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So you've covered a lot of astronomical events. Haley's Comet, Shoemaker Levy 9.

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Haley's Comet was seen twice from this observatory, the orignal pass in 1910,

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and then in 1986, when we had about 1,000 people queueing up in the freezing cold to see it.

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Generally speaking, we use the telescope now

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for looking at solar system objects, the moon and planets.

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-Later on, hopefully, we'll see Jupiter.

-That would be fantastic.

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-The sky is clear.

-Hopefully it stays that way.

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Unfortunately, we won't see Mars, because that doesn't rise here

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-until quite early in the morning.

-I noticed earlier you had a logbook

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with some wonderful old Mars drawings.

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-Can we have a look at them?

-Yes, you can.

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-We have drawings dating right the way back to 1910.

-Good grief.

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And there are some reports and everything else there.

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Look at the colour of these. They're superb, aren't they?

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Thank you very much. Those two are mine.

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Oh, well done! Very good!

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It's not surprising that mars is so interesting, because it's the only planet int he solar system

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-apart from ours that we can see the surface of.

-Absolutely! And it's very similar to the Earth.

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-In some ways.

-A day is similar to us, it has seasons.

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-Hopefully we'll catch Jupiter later on.

-With any luck.

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And we'll get a good view, this telescope gives good definition on planets.

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'While we wait for night to fall and Jupiter to rise,

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'Pete and I have some fun things for you to look at over November.'

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-Oh, it's definitely a bit nippy.

-How about here?

-This'll do.

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Jupiter is the obvious thing we should mention first, Pete.

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Very, very bright object.

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It's incredibly bright and if you go out sort of

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in the later part of the night, there it is, very high up,

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very prominent in the sky.

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It was at opposition at the end of October and that's the point

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when it's actually in the opposite part of the sky to the sun.

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And quite a good opposition.

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That's approximately about a 30th of the diameter of the moon.

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-That's quite impressive for a planet.

-It's still quite impressive.

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Some very fascinating details on Jupiter.

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The great red spot's quite prominent.

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-The southern equatorial belt's come back.

-It has.

-We've got these storms.

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We've got these amazing bargees.

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-Very dark spots.

-Dark spots which have been spread out.

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There's some very prominent ones in the north equatorial belt.

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Very interesting objects.

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It's an amazing planet to look at, it really is.

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Well, that's Jupiter. Moving on now to Mars.

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Mars is making a bit of a comeback in the night sky. You have a nice event

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-you've picked out for us.

-I have.

-Well, we think it's nice.

-It is nice.

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It's actually quite striking, because what's going to happen

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is Mars is going to move very close to the bright star

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in Leo the lion, which is Regulus.

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Regulus sits at the bottom of a backward question mark

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of stars known as The Sickle, so that's quite easy to identify it.

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Both Regulus and Mars will be about the same brightness

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and get really close on the morning of the 11th, so you have to get up

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in the early morning, about 5.30am, if you can face that.

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There's no real cosmic significance, but what really stands out

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-is the contrasting colour.

-Yes, of course.

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Because Mars looks very red and Regulus looks sort of whitey-blue.

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It's really striking when they're close together.

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I've never seen that grouping before.

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-Definitely worth seeing.

-A photographic opportunity there.

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So early morning of the 11th. You'll see it several days either side

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and it'll look really impressive.

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I'll keep a look out for that.

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-Moving on, we have the planet Saturn.

-It's coming back.

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And it's well-tilted, so the rings are really well on display.

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It's tilted by about 14 degrees,

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so that means it's the north pole of the planet has been tilted over,

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and the rings appear to open up to us.

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Over the last year or so, they've been looking really quite thin.

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-That's right.

-But now they're really quite chunky.

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Of course, we had that storm, didn't we?

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-The Dragon Storm.

-Oh, that was amazing.

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It spread right the way around the planet.

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It looked beautiful in blue light.

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What will the legacy of that storm be?

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-It's always worth having a look.

-Can't wait!

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100 years ago, Hampstead was a lovely dark site, clear of London smog.

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But now light pollution is a challenge for the astronomers.

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But that does not put off the observatory regulars,

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who wander in to see the planets and our moon.

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Jon Culshaw is a local and has come to find out more

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about his favourite planet, Mars.

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-Ah, there you are.

-Oh, Jon Culshaw.

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Hello, Jon.

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Let me deactivate this.

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-Yes.

-My own portable light pollution.

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-Works very well, Jon.

-How are you doing?

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-This is your stomping ground, isn't it?

-Yes, this is.

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This is my local observatory. Great to have you here.

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What a fantastic telescope to have access to.

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-And a wonderful clear night as well.

-It is. Jupiter's peeking up.

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Yes, as if it's reported for duty.

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-PATRICK MOORE IMPRESSION:

-I'm very happy about that. Yes, very happy.

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-And of course, we're getting ready for the return of Mars.

-Yes.

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Looking at Mars through a telescope,

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it's often quite a disappointing thing to look at

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first time out. I remember my first view of Mars,

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I thought my telescope was broken, I have to say.

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What you get is this sort of pinkish blob.

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Yes, it can be fuzzy, can't it?

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You don't see much details on it. You really have to let your eye

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get in with Mars. Also, if you've got your own telescope

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and you keep it in the living room, or the kitchen,

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you need to take it outside and give it time to cool down.

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That's the biggest hurdle a lot of people fall over at.

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When it's warm, you get air currents inside it

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and that makes the view fuzzy, as well.

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When you do that, If you get a really good, stable viewing,

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Mars is high up and you've let the telescope cool down,

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that's when you can get this beautiful view of Mars

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which almost looks like it's a sketch that's been cut out of a book

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and stuck on the end of the telescope!

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But you've seen Mars through this?

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I do remember one view, about 18 months ago,

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when the view of Mars looked just like those early diagrams.

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-Oh, yeah.

-The polar caps, the canals. I love it when it looks like that.

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-You didn't see canals, Jon.

-No, no.

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-The formations that were mistaken for it.

-Yeah.

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From a distance, you'd think a visitor

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from another world would see the Earth and Mars

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and imagine it was hot and cold.

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'Well, we won't be seeing Mars tonight, as it's not appearing

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'until three in the morning.

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'Outside, astronomers gather to enjoy the clear sky.

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'We may even have a glimpse

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'of our nearest galaxy, Andromeda or M31.'

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-Hello.

-Hello.

-Oh, it's a cold night, isn't it?

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-So what are you looking for?

-Well, we're looking for M31, but...

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-Nothing like optimism!

-Absolutely.

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Well, this is a substantial instrument. What size is it?

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-This is a six-inch refractor.

-Can I have a look?

-Yes.

-Let's have a look.

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Are you sure?

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Yeah, I can just about make it out, actually.

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It's still there.

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-Hello!

-Hello!

-It's John, isn't it?

-Yes.

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-Nice to see you.

-Nice to see you. I have to say,

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-this does not look like a standard telescope!

-No, this is one I made myself.

-Really?

-Yes.

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-That's phenomenal.

-Over a period of about six months.

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This is the telescope that introduced me to Saturn, so...

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It's the first thing I saw through it.

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I've been wandering about the observatory site

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and look what I've found. The most enormous pair of binoculars.

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-They really are quite large, aren't they, Kevin?

-Absolutely.

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Can I have a look? What have we got?

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We've got the double cluster in Perseus.

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Oh, and we have! Quite, quite beautiful.

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and I think one of the amazing things

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looking at an object like that through binoculars

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is this amazing wide view that you get.

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You do get an enormous field of view.

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Some great view of the moon, and the star clusters of the Milky Way.

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-Absolutely.

-No observing site would be complete

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-without a pair of binoculars, Kevin.

-Very special.

-Very special.

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Well, we've got Jupiter in the sky.

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The telescope's trained onto it and by the magic of Pete Lawrence,

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it is now on the television screen.

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-That's quite an impressive image, isn't it?

-Certainly is, certainly is.

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-Yes, live from the scene of Jupiter.

-That's right.

-Live pictures.

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There's lots of detail. There's those two main belts which are easily visible.

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-If we'd looked last year, one belt would have been missing.

-The south equatorial belt had vanished

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but it's back with a vengeance.

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-It is.

-It's a nice view.

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-Does that compare with the views you normally get up here?

-Indeed.

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-We feel spoiled with how bright Jupiter is.

-Yes, it's marvellous.

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I've been wondering very recently, Jupiter and the moon

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-always seem to have been close together.

-For a few days now, yes.

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-Like they're working together.

-Jupiter can stand the moonlight.

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You see that really bright dot next to the moon in the sky.

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It's really very impressive.

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Even with binoculars, you can see the wonderful moons.

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You can, yeah.

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-The little pinpricks of light.

-Absolutely.

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Here's a little tip. With a pair of binoculars, it's sometimes difficult

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to hold them still, especially when cold, so you can see moons clearly.

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If you've got a broom, a nice, clean broom, you put it with the handle

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on the ground and you can rest the binoculars on the broom.

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-That is such a great tip.

-That broom will be riddled with spiders

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and it will be absolutely appalling.

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-Thanks for coming. Great to have you.

-Thanks for inviting us.

-It's been fantastic.

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'Pete and I have had a great time at Hampstead.

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'It's free to the public

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'and well worth going to see the wonders of the night sky.

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'You can find your local observatory or society

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'by looking at our website.'

0:16:340:16:36

Don't forget our Sky At Night Flickr site.

0:16:400:16:43

If you take any images of Mars over the next month, post them up

0:16:430:16:47

and we'll take a look.

0:16:470:16:50

Well, telescopes tell us a great deal.

0:16:500:16:53

But don't forget, Mars never comes much within 35 million miles of us,

0:16:530:16:57

so we're bound to be limited. We need spacecraft,

0:16:570:17:00

and unmanned probes being sent there.

0:17:000:17:03

Some of these have crawled around the surface.

0:17:030:17:06

But later on this month, a new probe, Curiosity,

0:17:060:17:09

is going to blast off and land on Mars.

0:17:090:17:13

It's a very complicated probe indeed.

0:17:130:17:15

There was a gathering of planetary scientists.

0:17:150:17:18

Sadly, I couldn't get there, but Chris Lintott could

0:17:180:17:21

and he's been enquiring about the Curiosity rover.

0:17:210:17:24

Nantes in France, a large trading port near the sea,

0:17:240:17:28

with the River Loire running through it.

0:17:280:17:31

It's a wonderful time for anyone

0:17:330:17:35

who's interested in exploring our solar system.

0:17:350:17:37

We've got probes around Mercury and Vesta.

0:17:370:17:40

We've got missions all over Mars.

0:17:400:17:42

Cassini's still at Saturn and there's even a probe,

0:17:420:17:45

New Horizons, on the way to Pluto.

0:17:450:17:47

And to discuss the flood of data that they're all sending back,

0:17:470:17:51

1,500 of the world's leading planetary scientists have come here to Nantes.

0:17:510:17:55

It's the largest gathering of them since the days of Apollo.

0:17:550:17:59

'The solar system is full of new and exciting stories,

0:17:590:18:04

'but the reason I'm here is to find out what's happening on Mars.'

0:18:040:18:09

The very first rover to land on Mars was this little thing.

0:18:090:18:12

This is Sojourner, that landed in the mid-'90s.

0:18:120:18:15

But things have moved on since then.

0:18:150:18:17

We've got Spirit and Opportunity.

0:18:170:18:19

Opportunity's still going strong,

0:18:190:18:20

reaching Endeavour crater not so long ago.

0:18:200:18:23

And then come over here. Look at this big beast.

0:18:230:18:25

This is a full-scale replica of Curiosity,

0:18:250:18:28

the next rover to land on Mars.

0:18:280:18:30

It's going to change everything we know

0:18:300:18:33

about science on the red planet.

0:18:330:18:35

NASA's latest rover,

0:18:350:18:37

originally called the Mars Science Laboratory,

0:18:370:18:39

has been renamed Curiosity.

0:18:390:18:41

And it is an impressive machine.

0:18:410:18:43

Weighing in at almost a tonne, it has a nuclear generator on board,

0:18:430:18:48

which keeps it warm, so it can work day and night,

0:18:480:18:50

even throughout the cold Martian winter.

0:18:500:18:54

I hope the science team can keep up with it.

0:18:540:18:56

It's too big to bounce onto the surface in an airbag,

0:18:560:19:00

and that means a spectacular landing, complete with rockets

0:19:000:19:03

and a hovering platform. It's really scary stuff.

0:19:030:19:08

Mars isn't an easy place, even for the most well-prepared explorer,

0:19:080:19:12

and so the engineers have been testing Curiosity not only for that landing,

0:19:120:19:16

but also for the extreme temperatures that it has to endure.

0:19:160:19:20

Curiosity's essentially a roving geologist

0:19:220:19:25

and a laboratory,

0:19:250:19:27

and it's looking for evidence of conditions

0:19:270:19:29

that could have supported life.

0:19:290:19:31

ChemCam sits on top of the mast and has a telescope, a camera

0:19:310:19:36

and a new addition, a laser, which will vaporise rocks from a distance.

0:19:360:19:40

Sylvestre Maurice has spent ten years developing ChemCam

0:19:400:19:45

and simply can't wait to get to Mars and start zapping rocks.

0:19:450:19:49

How do you choose where on Mars to go?

0:19:510:19:54

It's a big planet and you've only got one of these.

0:19:540:19:56

-So, where are we going and why are we going there?

-Where to go?

0:19:560:20:00

We look at this wonderful planet, and say, where do I want to go?

0:20:000:20:03

Engineers say, "Guys, this is too cold, don't even try, too cold, you don't try," so you stay here.

0:20:030:20:09

There's a big mountain here called Olympus Mons -

0:20:090:20:12

-here it is. They say, "Don't even try here, it's too high."

-OK.

0:20:120:20:16

This part here, Hellas, is too low and so the engineers

0:20:160:20:20

-reduce the number of possible sites because they want somewhere where they can land.

-OK.

0:20:200:20:25

It needs to be flat, no wind, not too many rocks, not too high altitude,

0:20:250:20:29

-not too cold, not too hot.

-So where are we landing?

0:20:290:20:32

Where are we landing on the planet? It's the crater called Gale.

0:20:320:20:36

It's a big crater but what's interesting,

0:20:360:20:38

you have a nice landing ellipse on the bottom.

0:20:380:20:42

-How big's the crater?

-About 50 kilometres. It's a big crater.

0:20:420:20:45

-So the edge will be over the horizon?

-Yes, but there's a peak.

-Ah, OK.

0:20:450:20:51

When you form a crater, a crater is formed by an impact coming from there and the impact smashes.

0:20:510:20:56

So, this is an impact crater, not a volcanic one?

0:20:560:20:59

It's an impact crater, expels a lot of things

0:20:590:21:02

and there's always at the centre a rebound

0:21:020:21:05

because of some pressure effect and that creates some sort of peak.

0:21:050:21:09

-Like you see on the moon?

-On the moon you see many of them.

0:21:090:21:13

It's like climbing the Grand Canyon. As you climb on, you're going to see different histories.

0:21:130:21:18

'Silvestre's laser will analyse its surroundings quickly so that Curiosity

0:21:180:21:22

'doesn't have to waste its time on less interesting rocks.

0:21:220:21:26

'It's on a mission to find evidence that Mars was once a very watery world.

0:21:260:21:31

'The ChemCam team want to find really old rocks, billions of years old,

0:21:310:21:36

'from Mars's ancient past, when water might well have been in abundance.'

0:21:360:21:42

In the past ten years, we've completely changed our view of Mars.

0:21:420:21:45

-We know that there was water there once.

-We know there was water

0:21:450:21:49

but let's be honest, we know that for the last three billion years nothing happened on Mars.

0:21:490:21:53

-Sure.

-Kind of a boring place.

-There are people who'd argue the volcanoes are recent, though?

0:21:530:21:58

Maybe, the volcanoes, Tarsis, and Olympus, and the axis doing that and that,

0:21:580:22:03

climate, a lot of stuff happened, but these are small.

0:22:030:22:09

-This is old terrain?

-Yeah, and it's ceased happening.

0:22:090:22:12

The real good stuff, we know now it happened between the origin of Mars, in 4.5...

0:22:120:22:19

-Same as the Earth, roughly?

-Yeah, about the same as the Earth. ..and 3.5, the first billion years.

0:22:190:22:25

If you went back 3.5 billion years, Mars would look more like Earth than it does today.

0:22:250:22:29

Yeah, and the big news we've got also from earth scientists is that we think that on Earth,

0:22:290:22:34

during this first billion years, had water, atmosphere and life.

0:22:340:22:38

We have another one that now we know but in its past has probably the condition

0:22:380:22:45

exactly the same as Earth at the same time.

0:22:450:22:47

Those Martian oceans are long gone along with the rest of the thick Martian atmosphere,

0:22:470:22:52

lost thanks to Mars's weak gravitational pull.

0:22:520:22:57

Some water still survives, particularly under the surface,

0:22:570:23:01

but that, on its own, is not all that's needed to support life.

0:23:010:23:06

It's a combination of physical condition, temperature,

0:23:060:23:10

pressure, water, is the water liquid or not? And then...

0:23:100:23:14

-And how long was it liquid for?

-Exactly, and then do you have the elements to do that,

0:23:140:23:19

-do you have the organics, you have carbon? We call them the CHNOPS.

-OK.

-You know the CHNOPS?

0:23:190:23:23

-No.

-Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, phosphor and sulphur.

0:23:230:23:31

-OK.

-You get the CHNOPS, you get life.

0:23:310:23:33

'Curiosity is trying to track down evidence of CHNOPS in the rocks.

0:23:330:23:39

'If those elements were present in Mars's early history,

0:23:390:23:42

'life may well have formed. But we want to know also

0:23:420:23:46

'if the conditions that can support life are there today.

0:23:460:23:49

'The polar caps freeze and melt with the seasons, but it's very, very cold.

0:23:490:23:56

'This eye in the Martian sky is Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

0:23:560:24:00

'and it's picked up very subtle changes on steep slopes near the equator.

0:24:000:24:06

'Candice Hansen works on its camera, HiRISE,

0:24:060:24:09

'and believes what they're seeing is evidence of flowing, briny water.'

0:24:090:24:14

So what we see are dark streaks that go down-slope.

0:24:140:24:18

They are dark to begin with,

0:24:180:24:20

which you would expect if they're fluid of some sort.

0:24:200:24:24

-So darker because if you wet sand or something, it gets darker.

-That's right.

0:24:240:24:28

So what we think that we are seeing is liquid brine - very salty water.

0:24:280:24:35

It's always in the summertime and in locations that have them,

0:24:350:24:39

you'll see thousands of them.

0:24:390:24:40

'So every Martian summer, salty water is unfreezing and creating mini-flows when it's warm.

0:24:400:24:47

'Mars isn't a dead place but a living, breathing, changing world.

0:24:470:24:52

'Seeing channels of water in the equatorial regions is

0:24:520:24:55

'one of the most exciting discoveries on Mars so far

0:24:550:24:58

'and the implications of flowing water are immense.'

0:24:580:25:02

You know, here on Earth, if you find water,

0:25:020:25:06

you find something swimming in it.

0:25:060:25:08

'Methane is a hydrocarbon gas

0:25:080:25:10

'that's very much associated with life here on Earth,

0:25:100:25:13

'but which also breaks down in the atmosphere very quickly.

0:25:130:25:17

'On Mars, we've found methane in the atmosphere and so something,

0:25:170:25:21

'either volcanic activity of some sort or even life,

0:25:210:25:25

'must be producing it.

0:25:250:25:26

'Jonathan is an astrobiologist

0:25:260:25:29

'who'd like to find some evidence of life on other worlds.'

0:25:290:25:33

If you want to look for life today it's actually much more difficult,

0:25:330:25:37

because most people think that life on Mars

0:25:370:25:40

exists deep down in the crust if it exists at all,

0:25:400:25:43

where the liquid water is persistent.

0:25:430:25:46

Mars, billions of years ago,

0:25:460:25:48

almost certainly had large amounts of liquid water.

0:25:480:25:51

That was one of the great discoveries

0:25:510:25:53

of the Spirit and Opportunity missions.

0:25:530:25:55

But Mars today is dry

0:25:550:25:57

and liquid water on the surface exists for short times.

0:25:570:26:00

So, you would have to go down maybe kilometres through the crust

0:26:000:26:04

to actually find that life.

0:26:040:26:07

I'd say that's incredibly difficult.

0:26:070:26:09

It is - we're not going to do it between now and the next DPS meeting.

0:26:090:26:12

But, there's one caveat to this, which is that methane

0:26:120:26:16

appears to be present in the atmosphere of Mars.

0:26:160:26:20

Methane in the Martian atmosphere,

0:26:200:26:22

very unstable, is chemically eaten up very quickly,

0:26:220:26:25

so something is actively producing it.

0:26:250:26:28

There are two possibilities.

0:26:280:26:30

One is it's produced by geological processes.

0:26:300:26:32

-Volcanoes.

-That's one possibility.

0:26:320:26:35

The other is that it has something to do with life.

0:26:350:26:38

But in the case of Mars,

0:26:380:26:39

what you could do is you could go find the sources of methane,

0:26:390:26:43

you could look at what are called the isotopes of the carbon,

0:26:430:26:46

and life favours the light carbon.

0:26:460:26:49

There will be a difference in the ratio of the heavy to light carbon

0:26:490:26:54

in the methane than in all the other sources of carbon on Mars,

0:26:540:26:58

for example, carbon dioxide.

0:26:580:27:00

If there's a strong signature of that,

0:27:000:27:02

that would be a very good indication that biology was somehow involved.

0:27:020:27:06

'Thanks to the fleet of spacecraft now exploring Mars,

0:27:060:27:10

'we're getting an excellent understanding of the planet's chemistry,

0:27:100:27:14

'both in the atmosphere and on the ground.

0:27:140:27:17

'Curiosity's SAM instrument is a mobile chemistry lab

0:27:170:27:21

'capable of analysing soil collected by the rover's robotic arm.

0:27:210:27:25

'The previous landers, Viking and Phoenix, both analyse soil samples,

0:27:250:27:30

'but the results have been difficult to interpret,

0:27:300:27:33

'reminding us that Mars is an alien world which we barely understand.

0:27:330:27:38

'The steady flow of discoveries about Mars

0:27:380:27:41

'expands our knowledge of the red planet.

0:27:410:27:43

'Each successive mission takes us further in our quest to find out

0:27:430:27:48

'whether life has existed on Mars and whether it's still there today.'

0:27:480:27:52

Next month, we're going to visit the Alpha solar system.

0:27:540:27:57

We've also got something rather special for you -

0:27:570:28:00

we've found a lost Sky At Night programme going back to 1963,

0:28:000:28:06

which is a rather young me talking to someone whom we remember,

0:28:060:28:11

known as Arthur C Clarke.

0:28:110:28:13

I think you'll enjoy this!

0:28:130:28:15

Now, I'm talking about moon bases tonight for two reasons.

0:28:150:28:18

First, because they are very topical

0:28:180:28:20

and we've just shown you one new design study.

0:28:200:28:23

But secondly, because I'm delighted to have with me my old friend

0:28:230:28:27

Arthur Clarke.

0:28:270:28:29

Arthur, you, of course, were forecasting developments

0:28:290:28:32

of this kind more than 20 years ago.

0:28:320:28:34

Thank you, Pat.

0:28:340:28:35

Until then, good night.

0:28:350:28:38

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:520:28:56

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:560:28:59

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.


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