Thursday, June 21, 2001

Mars set for
bright climb up
island summer skies

It is the brightest the planet
has been since 1988

By Helen Altonn

Islanders will have a spectacular view of the Red Planet this summer in the night sky in the east, says Mike Shanahan, Bishop Museum Planetarium manager.

"It's not as bright as Venus, but it is still way bright for Mars," he said.

Mars -- called "Hoku'ulua" in Hawaiian for "red star" -- is coming closer to Earth.

It is the brightest the planet has been since 1988 and, further into the summer, it will move higher in the western sky at sunset, Shanahan said.

He said Mars is easy to spot: Looking toward the south at about 8 p.m., it is rising in the southeast, about 17 or 18 degrees in the sky.

He said Mars gets halfway up in the sky by midnight, clearing the murky horizon atmosphere. "We get a nice shot at it."

In the telescope, he said, it doesn't really have the distinct surface that Jupiter does. "It is not an 'Oh, wow' thing as we see the rings of Jupiter."

But dark patches can be seen and since it is coming out of its winter, a prominent southern polar cap may be seen.

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