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Explore the red planet with Pat Hanrahan

Mt. Hood Sky Theater head to also discuss eclipse


You can go to Mars next Tuesday, and that’s no April Fool’s joke.by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Fans of the Sky Theater shows at Mt. Hood Community College will take a virtual journey to Mars next week.

Pat Hanrahan directs the Sky Theater planetarium, beneath the library at Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St., and invites the public to join him on a virtual exploration of Mars. Shows take place at 6, 7:15 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 1.

“I will be using the new digital system to show the tour of Mars,” Hanrahan says. “We have some amazing imagery of Mars, and we can closely explore just about any part of its surface.”

Sites that viewers will see include the Gale Crater, home of the Mars Curiosity Rover, as well as the largest canyon in the solar system, Valles Marineris. Hanrahan also will show his audience the largest mountain in the solar system, Mons Olympus, and a number of other Martian features.

“It will even include a couple of ‘faces’ on Mars that seem almost too unreal to be natural,” he adds. “Overall, this tour will look like a movie while we are looking at our digital system.”

If the show gets you excited about viewing Mars for yourself, Hanrahan says the red planet is visible almost all night every night.

“Mars rises in the eastern sky near sunset near Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, and sets in the west near sunrise, still near Spica,” he says. “You can follow the handle of the Big Dipper first to the bright star Arcturus and then down to the next bright star, which is Spica.”

Mars is at its brightest in two years because its orbit has brought it close to the Earth, he adds.

“However, binoculars and even most telescopes will not show you much detail on Mars as Mars appears so much smaller in our sky as compared to our moon,” Hanrahan says. “With a telescope, you probably can make out the polar ice caps, and even that will take some time and concentration to see. With binoculars, you probably won’t see much more than a red dot.”

Up until now, humanity has sent only unmanned craft to Mars, but there’s talk of a manned mission by 2030, although Hanrahan says it’s a lot harder than sending people to the moon.

“The mission may take on the order of two years to complete, and getting people to put up with each other in tight spaces for this long will not be easy,” he says.

“Maintaining strong muscles is a big enough challenge on Earth,” he adds. “It is much harder to do in space where there is no gravity. Even when crew members on the space station did aerobic exercise five hours a week and resistance exercise three to six days per week, muscle volume and peak power both still decreased significantly.”

There are significant dangers from cosmic rays and from solar particles as well, he says.

“They may need to look for a cave to shelter them from these rays if they plan to stay on Mars very long.”by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The shield volcano Mons Olympus on Mars is the second tallest mountain in our solar system, standing almost 14 miles high.

Lunar eclipse

Another celestial wonder Hanrahan will address is the total lunar eclipse on the night of Monday, April 14. The eclipse will peak just after midnight as the clock brings in April 15.

“Around 11:30 p.m. you should see the beginnings of the Umbra shadow covering the moon, and around 2 a.m. the moon will be exiting this shadow.”

Martian fanatics should note the moon will be eclipsed close to Spica and Mars.

If you would like to join a stargazing party for the eclipse, OMSI will host one from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. at Milo McIver State Park, 24101 S. Entrance Road, Estacada. For more information, visit omsi.edu/starparties.

Hanrahan adds those on the coast might see an effect from the eclipse on the tides.

“During these alignments, we usually have unusually high tides and unusually low tides, as with any full moon or new moon,” he says, noting such tides are called “spring tides” regardless of when they occur.

“The best tides occur on April 18,” he adds, noting that day marks another auspicious occasion — his birthday.

Hanrahan presents shows the first Tuesday of each month. The planetarium is wheelchair accessible. Admission is $2 and free for Mt. Hood students and employees (identification required). Individuals requiring accommodations due to a disability should call 503-491-6923 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information, visit mhcc.edu/planetarium.



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