Physics students attend ‘Mars Attacks’ party

Planet Earth is a planet that we learn more and more about everyday. However, with modern technology, we have the opportunity to learn just as much about the other planets orbiting within our solar system.

Saturday, the Sam Houston State University Society of Physics students hosted a “Mars Attacks” Star Party to view the red planet. Students and community members gathered at the SHSU observatory where telescopes could show features like the Martian polar caps and some light and dark areas on its face.

“We had a good turnout, but it was primarily people from the community,” said Renee James, assistant professor of physics.

According to James, lots of families with their kids were in attendance and about 15 kids made pictures for the art contest.

“The kids loved [the contest], and they all had a great time running around,” said Patrick Ferguson, SPS president.

There were many other events that took place that night like the raffle for private planetarium show and Renaissance Festival tickets and a silent auction.

“The SHSU Society of Physics students, who sponsored the whole event, raised about $300 through the silent auction, raffles and refreshment sales,” said James.

Ferguson said there was a Mars opposition party two years ago in 2003. According to James, in 2003 earth was far away from the sun, but Mars was close to the sun and at that time it was only about 38,000,000 miles from earth at opposition.

“[Opposition] is when Mars and the sun are opposite each other in the sky,” said James.

Mars has an eccentric orbit because it is off center from the sun, and it’s slightly elongated.

“Sometimes when [the earth] passes it, it’s farther away from the sun than it normally is [and] sometimes it’s closer to the sun than it normally is,” said James.

“The weather was awesome [except] there was a lot of moisture which made the telescope hazy,” said Ferguson. The largest telescope was positioned on Mars, however, the atmosphere was a little unstable which made the image shaky said James.

“For this opposition, it was still favorable but not as impressive as the one in 2003,” said James.

She said this was the best opposition we will see until 2018.

“People were happy to look at the red planet and at Venus, the Andromeda Galaxy and several clusters and nebulae throughout the sky,” said James.

According to James, the opposition will be seen throughout the fall and it’s the “bright red dot that rises just after sunset these days.”

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