AAS 203rd Meeting, January 2004
Session 118 Reaching Out: EPO
Poster, Thursday, January 8, 2004, 9:20am-4:00pm, Grand Hall

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[118.02] Red Planet Mania: The Public Response to the 2003 Mars Opposition

E. F. Albin, D. A. Dundee (Fernbank Science Center)

Interest in Mars is at an all time high. For many weeks leading up to and after August 27th or, the date of opposition, record crowds flocked to observatories for a look at Mars. Even after the media "dropped" the event and moved on to other stories, the public response was still unusually strong. It is suggested that such an overwhelming public enthusiasm can be taken as good reason to seek a higher level of government funding for astronomy and the exploration of the Red Planet.

Our observations and impressions of the public response to the close approach of Mars were taken from the authors affiliation with the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia - a museum which houses a well-equipped planetarium and observatory. The 500 seat planetarium features a Zeiss Mark V projector beneath a 21 meter diameter dome. A 0.9 meter reflecting telescope, situated not far from the planetarium, provided for stunning views of the Red Planet.

Fernbank staff produced an original planetarium presentation entitled "Visions of Mars." Due to overflow crowds, special extended showings were offered. After the planetarium program, members of the public were invited to the observatory for a look at Mars. An average of approximately 120 people each hour looked through the telescope. On many evenings, centered around opposition, the observatory remained open from 9:00 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. the following morning. On each of these nights, we estimate that at least 950 people saw Mars through our telescope. An important tool, an Astrovid CCD video camera, was attached to a piggybacked 11-inch telescope. This instrument proved invaluable in preparing observers for their actual observation. Features such as a Polar Ice Cap, Syrtis Major, and Tharsis were easily identified on the TV monitor and then readily spotted through the telescope.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: ed.albin@fernbank.edu

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35#5
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.