1998-1999 Apparition

Linking Amateur and Professional Mars Observing Communities.

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The International MarsWatch Electronic Newsletter

Volume 4; Issue 1
January 17, 1999
Circulation: 1435

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Dear Marswatch participant,

A few big announcements:

First: The 1998-1999 Marswatch Web Site is on line! Thanks to a huge amount of work by David Knighton and the gracious support of the Astronomical League, Marswatch has a home on the Web for the current observing season. To get to the site, point (and bookmark!) your browser to:

At this site you'll find the latest CCD images, photos, drawings, and other data of Mars uploaded by amateur and professional observers (some fantastic CCD images by noted Mars observer Don Parker are already there!). You can also upload your own images for all to see. This is a great way to allow others to follow along in the continuing adventure of Mars exploration. Everyone observing Mars this year is encouraged to participate. The site will soon be linked from the main JPL Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander Web sites, providing increased visibility and access to groundbased images of Mars. The new Marswatch Web site also provides links to additional information and  resources about Mars and the Marswatch Project, and by following links to the Astronomical League's main Web site at you can find much more information about telescopes, observing methods, and even joining a member society of the Astronomical League in your area. So please check out the new Marswatch Web Site and start uploading your images (and downloading your friends') today!

Second: Another great leap for Mars Exploration occurred in the cloudy Florida afternoon skies on January 3, as the Mars Polar Lander began its 11-month trek to the Red Planet. If all goes as planned, the Lander will perform a powered descent to a region near the Martian south pole on December 3 of this year, and on the way will release two small "microprobes" to explore the subsurface. It's another set of gutsy, risky, low cost but hopefully high gain NASA science missions. Check out the mission and some spectacular launch shots (including amazing movies of the launch *from a camera on the first stage of the Boeing Delta-II rocket*) at the official web sites:


Finally, here's another interesting and (as usual) thought-provoking article by Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (A.L.P.O.) Mars observer Jeff Beish on the value of continuing telescopic observations of the planet, even in this era of hi-tech orbiters and landers and rovers.

Enjoy, and best wishes for a successful observing season!

--Jim Bell
Cornell University

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Are Amateur Observations of Mars Important to Science?

By: Jeffrey D. Beish
Former Mars A.L.P.O. Recorder

During the 1960's and 1970's heyday of space missions to Mars we learned that amateur observations were of vital importance to the safety of landing machines on that planet. In a J.A.L.P.O. paper titled, "A Season for Viking", Chick Capen accredited A.L.P.O. observers with alerting space agency officials to the highly active region of Chryse. He wrote that the Chryse region exhibited "a history of seasonally controlled weather". Chryse was a target for the Viking I Lander and they had contracted several planetary astronomers to detail the region as a possible landing site. Capen was one of those chosen and he reported information A.L.P.O. observers had sent him along with his own telescopic observations at Lowell Observatory.

Indeed, Chryse is an active region. During the Martian northern he writes, "summer and winter, when one or the other of the polar caps has about completed its thawing phase, there have been observed morning bright patches which were interpreted to be ice-fogs or ground frosts formed during the chill of the night". [Capen, 1976]. This interpretation is still to be fully verified, and he was optimistic that ground-based amateur observers would contribute to solving this weather phenomena on Mars.

From my own observations, Chryse has been more active than past observers had believed. Several dust storms have been observed in this area and to rage on for weeks. Dust clouds have been observed to cross from Chryse south into the darker regions and flow into and out of Eos-Aurorae Sinus and continue on into the Solis Lacus area. Although Chryse is reported bright in all colors during most seasons, observers should be especially aware of the area during the end of the polar cap thawing period. This story of weather in Chryse may not be the whole, however.

During May of 1982 this author tracked bright dust clouds on the morning limb west of Solis Lacus extending northeast toward Tithonius Lacus and Lunae Lacus. Dust clouds and haze north of Solis Lacus extended onto the morning limb and into Margritifier Sinus, adjacent to Chryse. These features are close by to Chryse and dust was seen to cover the Ganges almost completely. Chryse remained bright with dusty haze for weeks afterward.

Several Martian areas adjacent to Chryse also exhibit active weather patterns. One in particular is Ophir, a bright desert region sandwiched between Aurorae Sinus and the dark blotches and canal like features connecting to Coprates. The Ganges border Ophir to the east and when the Coprates is dark this regions is very bright, giving observers cause to claim that a dust cloud may be present there. While A.L.P.O. observers have in fact reported dust activity in Ophir, it is usually in conjunction with a confirmed dust storm in Chryse or Solis Lacus. Detecting the positions of dust clouds is difficult even when visually observing Mars with filters, so we then alert astronomers equipped to image the planet at a moment's notice.

A well equipped astro-imager can verify the presence of dust clouds and work with visual observers to track these storms for as long as they last. Visual observers should be aware of the excellent CCD imagers out there in amateur astronomy land and it is hoped that the A.L.P.O. Mars Section Coordinators will list these fine astronomers and how to contact them in future Martian Chronicles. This would be great to include in any future articles in Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, and Amateur Astronomy magazines.

A rumor is circulating that amateur contributions to science are in question. This author knows very well that this is a completely bogus assertion, however. There may be young people out there who are impressed by these self-appointed experts, and the experienced "Pro Am" scientists have an obligation to set the record straight. One thing is for sure: if we leave it up to the official space agency to investigate this Red Planet's weather, they will no doubt contact the amateur community when they get stuck! When the Hubble Space Telescope imaged that dust storm in Chryse right before the Pathfinder was to land, the media hyped it up and left many with the impression that you need HST to discover these things. Amateurs were far ahead of this, just ask our Mars Section astronomers!


Capen, Charles F., "A Season for Viking," J.A.L.P.O., Vol 26, Nos. 3-4, August 1976, pages 41 - 46.

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A calendar of events for the coming Mars apparition can be found in IMW newsletter Volume 3, number 6.

For more information on starting your own Mars observing program, or contributing to the scientific study of Mars, check out the A.L.P.O. WWW home page at: and the Astronomical League's Web site at

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Jim Bell will continue to maintain the email distribution list as well as the various Cornell and JPL Marswatch-related WWW archives. If you are receiving duplicate copies of the International MarsWatch Electronic Newsletter, or you want your name added to or removed from the distribution list, please send him an email at

Jim Bell
Cornell University
Department of Astronomy
Center for Radiophysics and Space Research
424 Space Sciences Building
Ithaca, NY 14853-6801
Phone: 607-255-5911; fax: 607-255-9002

Read the Next MarsWatch Newsletter (Volume 4; Issue 2; February 14, 1999)

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This page is maintained by David Knighton for the International MarsWatch. The 1998-1999 MarsWatch site it hosted by the Astronomical League as a service to the astronomical community. Comments, corrections, and suggestions can be addressed to This page last updated March 9, 1999.