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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.
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.
I've been observing Mars for many years, form my own observatory
and from some of the world's largest telescopes, including yours.
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.
Generally speaking, we use the telescope now mainly
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!
'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.
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.
-Have you seen Mars?
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.
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
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.
Well, we've got Jupiter in the sky.
The telescope's turned onto it and by the magic of Pete Lawrence,
it is now on the television screen.
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
in 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.
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.
Sylvestre'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.
In the past ten years, we've completely changed our view of Mars.
Sure. We know there was water there, lots of water.
Let's be honest, we know that for the last three billion years,
nothing happened on Mars. Then it gets tough.
We know now it happened between the origin of Mars,
-which is 4.5...
-Yeah, same as the Earth, roughly.
And 3.5, the first billion years.
If you went back 3.5 billion years, Mars would look more like Earth.
We think that on Earth, during this first billion years,
it had water, atmosphere and life.
We have another one that now we know, in its past
has probably the conditions 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' 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.
-Was the water liquid or not?
-And how long was it liquid for?
Exactly, and do you have the elements to do that?
Do you have the organics? Carbon. We call them the SCHNOPs.
-Do you know the SCHNOPs?
Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen,
oxygen, phosphor, and sulphur. You get the SCHNOPs, you get life.
Curiosity is trying to track down evidence of SCHNOPs in the rocks.
If those elements were present in Mars' early history,
life may well have formed.
But we want to know also if the conditions that can support life
are there today.
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 analysed 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,
but Paul's got something rather special for you.
We found a lost Sky At Night programme going back to 1963.
It shows a rather young me
talking to someone whom you may remember.
a person called 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 Clarke.
Now Arthur, you, of course, were forecasting developments
of this kind more than 20 years ago.
Well, thank you, Pat.
Until then, goodnight.
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