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Mars closest to Earth in 60,000 years--UNI celebrates

August 19, 2003

Siobahn Morgan, professor of astronomy, (319) 273-2389
Vicki Grimes, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-2761

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- The University of Northern Iowa Department of Earth Science will celebrate a once in a lifetime opportunity when Mars will be the closest it has been to Earth in 60,000 years. The department will open the Hillside Observatory to the public at 9 p.m., Wednesday Aug. 27, for a chance to see the red planet through the observatory's 16-inch telescope.

UNI professor of astronomy Siobahn Morgan says the relatively close position of Mars allows astronomers to observe the planet in greater detail for a long period of time. One area they will be able to learn more about is the weather on Mars.

'Having Mars very close to the Earth allows for thorough observations of the atmosphere on a much larger scale, allowing planetary scientists the chance to gather a significant amount of data on Martian weather,' said Morgan.

The Hillside Observatory is located on Jennings Drive in Cedar Falls. In the case of bad weather, the event will be cancelled. Mars will be visible throughout the fall and winter, and the observatory in McCollum Hall on campus is open to the public every Thursday night. The next time Mars will be this close to Earth will be in about 280 years.