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Mars still offering view of a lifetime

Observatory lets planet-gazers get one more look

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Attention, Mars fans who missed viewing the planet during its closest approach in history: the Salt Lake Astronomical Society is hosting an additional public viewing session tonight.

Patrick Wiggins, society member and also a NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, said the additional viewing date is set for 11 p.m. on Thursday night to 1 a.m. Friday morning at the complex's Harmons Observatory. That is, if the weather allows.

To reach the observatory, drive west from Salt Lake City on I-80, get off the freeway at Exit 99 (the road to Tooele). Turn right at the second traffic light after the freeway and go toward Benson Grist Mill, make a right onto Stansbury Park's Plaza Court and park in the parking lot nearest the skateboard area. The observatory complex is just west of the skateboard park.

Wiggins posted a map of the route on the Internet at planet.state.ut.us/slas/maps/MAP013.JPG.

Meanwhile, raves continue to pour in to the Deseret Morning News from Utahns who have enjoyed looking at Mars during this approach.

"We really saw quite a bit of detail," said Wayne Reese, Salina, who traveled to Flagstaff, Ariz., to view Mars at Lowell Observatory. The planet's south pole was "really easy to see," he said.

"Then the more we looked, the more we saw."

Observers at Lowell saw a huge volcano on Mars and Valles Marineris, that planet's "Grand Canyon," said the group's Kim Hyatt.

James Helsby noted in an e-mail, "it was an incredible experience. . . .

"The beauty of that glowing disk in the sky was amazing. I felt I could nearly see its full shape with the naked eye." He said a person could realize Mars was a planet close to Earth, "and not that it was just another bright spot in the sky."

Rob Ratkowski, a member of the Utah Valley Astronomy Association as well as the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, observed Mars from the 9,300-foot level of Mount Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii. "The south polar cap was very visible as were surface markings," he wrote.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com