Returning to Mars

In October 2016 and again in October 2017 I wrote two blog-posts about our exploration and eventual colonization of the red planet Mars. To date the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and NASA have delivered a total of seven unmanned rovers to Mars. Currently there are proposals and plans for satellite orbits, landers, rovers, and eventually crews onto Mars by the U.S., the European Space Agency, China, and Russia between the mid-2030’s and 2060. The lone private enterprise so far is SpaceX. Telling and imagining these Martian efforts on television will return again this coming Monday evening, November 12th on the National Geographic Channel’s second season of “Mars.” Getting there after around 7-months of spaceflight and surviving the first SOLs/days (or seasons of the Martian calendar) are not the only serious challenges. Coexisting with each other will be another on a long, long list of challenges that never really end.

If you think coexisting is sometimes difficult here on Earth, even with family, where we have so many benefits and luxuries we take for granted daily, then talk to Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, and William Pogue about how in 1973 just 84-days together inside Skylab 4 turned out! The biggest major problem for those three astronauts? Workaholism. Excessive workaholism to be more accurate. But to be safe and survive way out there is workaholism what will be required of Martian travelers and colonists?

There are a number of plans from various governmental, scientific, and commercial entities already in progress to gradually move humans from “Earth-reliant” stations (currently the ISS), to “Cislunar space”  that is still Earth-reliant, and then beyond our Moon into deep space travel to another planned Mars orbiting habitat/station (a transfer station, if you will), and finally onto the surface of Mars. Many supplies, equipment, and some raw materials will be waiting, shipped there for them months, years earlier. However, before the latter stages of these plans can unfold, we must first confirm that some basic elements, like water, microbes, and geothermal hot-spots underneath Martian soil, are still present in light of those components having existed in higher amounts on Mars 3.8 – 3.5 billion years ago. Dr. Dava Newman, former Deputy Administrator of NASA, explains that so far the news of necessary life-building resources on Mars are very encouraging, however:

For such a voyage [of boots on Mars], measured in years, astronauts will have to become Earth-independent, devising ways to make fuel, water, oxygen and building materials with whatever resources the Red Planet offers. If that seems as fantastical as Matt Damon growing potatoes in The Martian, Newman shrugs: Astronauts have dined on lettuce and peppers grown aboard the space station.

All the same, these are nonhuman concerns. What are the serious and pressing psychosocial challenges for space and Mars habitation? Making it to the red planet requires obvious, daunting, precise space and extra-planetary science, preparation, and training, but it requires just as much human science. Given how deterred and unfavorably psychology, neurology, biology, philosophy, and sociology (to name only five areas) have battled in the U.S. for widespread legitimacy the last century, the Human sciences are perhaps less prepared to face a life far away from our perfectly suited green and blue planet.

Here’s another influencing factor: because expeditions to Mars will likely be international collaborations, those astronauts and Martian colonists must overcome cultural differences to survive and thrive while on Mars. Communication between Earth and Martian expeditionary craft take 20-minutes to be received — which means 40-mins could pass before an answer is received on a spacecraft or Mars colony. Are these factors insurmountable? No, but they do compound the mental and behavioral health of astronauts and Martian colonists.

Earth from Mars photo

Your home from 127-million miles from Mars; taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera in Nov 2016

ISS crew-members have always praised the emotional, inspirational, and transcendental effect staring back down at Earth gives to them. But that is nothing like the possible effect of barely seeing your home as a tiny dot 35 – 37 million miles away (see MRC photo). Living in micro-gravity and zero-gravity pose several challenges on the human physiology. Space radiation has significant threats to human DNA, tissue, and cells which impact our central nervous system altering the structure and functions of the brain. Kidney stones become more common in altered gravity environments, which also leads to urinary track infections, which undetected can lead to confusion or delirium, which can be mistaken for a psychiatric disorder. And then there are the social difficulties of prolonged weightlessness and confinement of a group or crew.

In 2010-2011 the Mars-500 project, directed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, tested and studied six male participants from several countries for 520-days in a small Mars-like module. The results of the project revealed some encouraging as well as potentially significant psychosocial concerns. These ranged from friendly constructive interactions to errors in experiments and daily routines caused by sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Some crew-members became more sedentary after just 2-3 months. Their activities continued to decline for the next year. Due to the stress and exhaustion of two participants and simulated problem-events, 85% of the perceived conflicts among crew members and with mission control involved these two crew-members. For a better informed understanding of these psychosocial challenges in epic space-travel, read Mission to Mars by the American Psychological Association.


All of these concerns, however, do have some solutions. Surprisingly, cultural differences and language difficulties did not bear any significant influence. This is likely due to the fact that crew-members were so involved in each other’s daily routines and such intimacy is conducive to quicker collaboration and problem-resolution as opposed to those who are complete strangers and continents apart.

We are certainly prepared and capable of manned spacecraft to Mars and its colonization from a scientific nonhuman perspective, but are we as ready and prepared for the journey and life in deep space and on the red planet from a human sciences perspective? Maybe National Geographic Channel’s season 2 of Mars will help determine that… at least in the public’s mind, maybe. Come this Monday I will be watching and learning.


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Martian Laws

If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.

They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it. So, technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!

I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.

I blew myself up. Everything went great right up to the explosion.

∼ ∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼ ∼

Botanist Mark Watney is a fantastic character in the 2015 film “The Martian.” The movie is one of my all-time favorites. Those are just a few of the classic lines Watney stated while stranded, alone, on Mars, trying to survive for another 4-years, minimum. Complicated? Daunting? Yeah, to say the least. And that’s strictly concerning the human needs of Martian explorers and colonists, which by the way were not just Americans.

The Martian - base stationEarth-bound nations and their people have a long, long history of fighting each other and not getting along. What happens on Mars, or any celestial body, when Earthly independent nations with their own agendas start mixing with or conflicting with foreign foreign agendas? Watney indeed talked about those guidelines in the film, that applied back on Earth and Earth’s orbits, but what about on Mars?

In an October 2017 article on, writer Gbenga Oduntan probes into these issues with some questions regarding the governing of activity on and around Mars. I find it all intriguing because by 2022 and 2028 these manned Mars expeditions will become reality.

Psychological Factors

Mars is around 34.2 million miles away from Earth, which means it would take a manned spacecraft between 150-300 days — depending on the speed of the launch, the alignment of Earth and Mars, and the trajectory of the journey the spacecraft takes — to reach the red planet. The human physiological challenges of a year in spaceflight are numerous. If the trip doesn’t kill you or drive you insane, living on Mars might. The emotional stressors of being away from Earth are perhaps more numerous. Then consider living on an unforgiving, uncooperative alien planet and all sorts of further complexities compound manned expeditions.

[after Mindy has discovered that Watney may be alive]
“Can you imagine what he’s going through up there? I mean, he’s 50 million miles away from home. He thinks he’s totally alone. He thinks we gave up on him. What does that do to a man, psychologically? What the hell is he thinking right now?” — Vincent Kapoor, The Martian


click here to enlarge

Experts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Planetary Science Institute say helping boost the astronaut’s morale on the journey and on the surface of Mars would be the need to have enough living-space and good food for them to garden. Crops from “green walls” could supplement their space-food diet. Of course loading up the spacecraft with these pseudo-Earth human comforts and needs means a heavier payload, more fuel, and more cost considerations. Humans on Earth and in most governed states are required to pass tests to be issued operator licenses for autos and machinery. What sort of licensing tests should there be for Mars? These are only a few of the material, legal, and psychological challenges of manned spaceflights to Mars.

Policing and Martian Rights

The appropriate and safe activity on Mars and her two moons Phobos and Deimos will be practically endless. How should it be governed and policed? What should be permitted for states and corporations like Elon Musk’s SpaceX? Certain manufacturing of drugs and materials requiring sterile atmospheres could be done in space stations. Space and Mars discoveries under present laws can be patented and commercialized. Hence, what should be the legitimacy of Martian mining?

As laws stand now, conducting expeditions for the sake of science and sustenance for Martian missions are granted. However, creating property rights over celestial resources are not. This means the commercial extraction of resources back to Earth is illegal until international space treaties are updated. Unfortunately, history has shown that cooperation between opposing nations has often been hit or miss to put it mildly. It is likely that new laws and treaties for property and resources 34-million miles away will be ignored by Martian workers and their employers. Just ask the Native Americans of the U.S. Like the California Gold Rush of 1848 and the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, the U.S. and Luxembourg have made attempts already to gain appropriation of natural resources in space. Essentially the two countries are preparing to issue Carte Blanche to private companies for winner-takes-all acquisitions.

The Intergovernmental Agreements of 1988 and 1999 drawn up for the Columbus Space Station Project then the current International Space Station offer civil and criminal jurisdiction for all nations participating in space exploration. Parties to these agreements set out to govern the conduct and ramifications of international operating environments, particularly concerning the ESA’s (European Space Agency) eleven independent member states. Yet, even the totality of these agreements and policies in several instances are not fully elaborated, they do provide a compass for a comprehensive legal framework that can serve as an example for international space law and a forward-looking view to new developments.

Watney-Space Pirate

“Mark Watney:  Space Pirate.”

Nonetheless, it has become tradition that astronauts, cosmonauts, etc, are almost always subordinate to the hierarchical authority of one commander from their native registered country. That commander’s authority is usually cut-and-dry; final. Like in the naval traditions of hierarchy the ship’s captain has full and ultimate command and it is his/her responsibility for the care and safety of crew and passengers or “space colonists.” These past command traditions and roles will need modernizing however, for space travel and celestial population and survival.

Current Space Station Laws

“I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars. There’s an international treaty saying that no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. By another treaty if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies. So Mars is international waters. Now, NASA is an American non-military organization, it owns the Hab. But the second I walk outside I’m in international waters. So Here’s the cool part. I’m about to leave for the Schiaparelli Crater where I’m going to commandeer the Ares IV lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m on board the Ares IV. So I’m going to be taking a craft over in international waters without permission, which by definition… makes me a pirate.

Mark Watney: Space Pirate.

As Watney illustrates, there are a plethora of complexities not only aboard a space station orbiting Earth or Mars, but just as many complexities surround stations on the surface of Mars that need to be spelled out. According to the Outer Space Treaty, Mars belongs to everybody back on Earth. Nobody can “own” a celestial body. Today private companies on Earth can go to Mars whenever they choose, construct permanent habs, and start new Martian societies, as long as they do so under the Outer Space Treaty’s laws and bylaws. For good or bad this also includes weaponry. Those operations are not allowed to interfere with operations of others on Mars or in space. As Watney correctly alluded, maritime laws, at least for now, are applicable examples. But as was also touched on, including other independent nations to Martian activities and things are not so clear-cut, yet.

Here in the U.S. if you want to put a satellite into orbit, you must first obtain permission from the federal government. Depending on what activity will be done in space you must get further permission or license to do such activity. However, move outside of Earth-orbit and there are no current licensing agencies to supervise legal ramifications of celestial colonization. Space tourism by private companies has been on the rise for several years so governments are going to have to sort out licensing protocols very soon.

colonizing Mars - NGM

click here to enlarge

Like any new, untouched, pristine area or park, opening them up to the general public means human trash and contamination. The Outer Space Treaty specifically states this activity or behavior by humans or business entities is prohibited and it includes our contaminating microbes. Yet, here’s the Catch-22. Private or government spacecraft, by order of the OST, are required to decontaminate their ships as best as possible before sending and/or arriving on foreign planets. But humans are near impossible to decontaminate because our health depends on these microbes. Places on Mars or on other celestial bodies that may contain water or forms of frozen water and liquids or once did must receive the highest protections and laws possible. Even the most thoroughly decontaminated vessels may need banning from specific areas. Let’s keep in mind though that these laws, their jurisdiction, and enforcement in the end fall only under the U.S. flag. International space cooperation and collaboration among nations and peoples will see unchartered territory in the coming decades. Can it be made easier or harder? How so and how not?

Once again, there will always be titans of commerce who scream about “bureaucratic red-tape” and their (unfounded?) feeling of repression toward “human progress and developement” while their greed lurks in the wings waiting to pounce. History is saturated with these exploitations of resources at the expense of the bio-eco systems and/or the lives of lower-class vulnerable humans. Why would space, Mars, and beyond be any different?

Like 15th century European Empires discovering the New World bringing with them their way of life, materials, waste, and weapons, space debris around Earth-orbits today is already well past a point of substantial risks of collisions. It is only a matter of time before damage to a space station, human injury or loss of life caused by congested operations, overcrowding, trash, and debris will lead to legal and/or political conflicts. How soon should Earth’s international space community hash-out these very real future events? Is it even possible? Will it be easy or hard?


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Explore & Learn Always

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Stay or Go?

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Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer.
Humphry Davy

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My youth soccer head coach obviously didn’t want me to leave our U-17 team or the south Dallas league in which I had played the last eight seasons accumulating notoriety, awards, and trophies both for myself, him, and the team. But the fact remained:  in 1980 the OCSA paled compared to the NDCCCL of north Dallas-Plano. In south Dallas I was only a semi big fish in a small pond. I knew too well that if I were to have a chance to play at the highest levels possible, I had to travel over 20-miles there and back, 2-3 times a week and every weekend where the top flight players, teams, and coaches were competing; it had to be done.

If my parents and I had listened to many of the naysayers, I wouldn’t have achieved a sizable college soccer scholarship, been mentored and coached by two world-class former pro goalkeepers, started all four collegiate years, awarded MVP and All-Tournament Team in the 1982-83 NAIA National Championship tournament, awarded one NAIA Honorable Mention All-American (sophomore year), one NAIA second-team All-American (junior year), and two first-team All-American awards by the NSCAA and NAIA my final year, then I likely could not have gone on to a rewarding pro and semi-pro career the next 11-years on three foreign continents then back to the U.S., retiring in 1996.

I can gratefully and humbly say through firsthand experience that sometimes (many times?) the rewards are so worth the risks.

In the course of human endeavors of progress, better understanding, advancement, and evolving and promoting our species, we have reached another crossroads:  interplanetary exploration and colonization. Mars. Should we do it? Should we stay put or should we go?

Because of the upcoming 6-part National Geographic Channel  series Mars premiering Nov. 14, 2016, I stumbled into an intriguing discussion with a good friend of mine about colonizing the nearby distant planet. Though he is a big Star Trek fan and all for space exploration, my friend had some valid points. Here’s how the banter went:

A crappy Earth with problems would be better than Mars, Moon Colonies, etc. The only viable solution is a nearby habitable planet very similar to Earth. If we had the technology to colonize & terraform, we certainly would be advanced enough to heal our own planet. There are too many things we are interdependent on to leave Earth behind just yet. Besides distance, even an Earth-like twin planet would have many hidden obstacles to colonization.

mars-by-the-numbersProfessor T:
Similar warnings were also given to Magellan, Dias, Drake, Vespucci, Pizarro, Erik-the-Red, Ulfsson, Herjólfsson, Zheng He, and several others. Why did they not listen? (wink)

LOL! That’s nowhere close to being equitable. Not apples and oranges! Apples and iPhones! It’s not a warning, it’s simply thinking ahead. I am by no means well versed but I know enough that Space is even less hospitable than Mother Nature here on Earth. If you saw The Martian, read the book, then listen to the author as he explains in interviews what he had to extrapolate technology wise and fudge(!) just to make that story work.

Professor T:
Not really arguing your very valid points. But like the Serengeti wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, buffalos, etc, that annually cross the Grumeti River which they all know is FULL of hungry happy crocodiles and almost certain DEATH… yet they cross it, and many/most of those migrating animals cross multiple times in their lifetimes! Now explain to me why it is human nature and animal nature to constantly take risks, including paramount life-threatening risks!? (wink)

You are definitely from the Berenstain Bears timeline.

Professor T:
Bwahaha! Are you implying that I enjoy children’s storybooks and such pleasure might reflect a similar intellectual capacity!!!!? Then if so, you’d be correct Sir. (wink)

Ha, ha! No, it’s a “thing”. Google Berenstain/Berenstein Bears, Mandela phenomenon, etc. I’m just joking though.

Professor T:
By the way, as you know, I loved The Martian! Haven’t read the book yet, but the film was excellent!

If you lived closer, I’d let you borrow my copy.


from NASA’s website

The history of human exploration is indeed littered with many failed expeditions, fatalities and disasters. Perhaps the more notable ones just on Earth were The Narváez Expedition (1527), Hudson-NW Passage Expedition (1610), The Reed-Donner Party (1846), The Franklin Expedition (1845), and the 1996 Mount Everest Party to name just five. Moving out from Earth we have the doomed space disasters of several Russian Soyuz flights, NASA’s Apollo 1 (1967) and near disasters of Apollo 13 (1970) and Gemini 8 (1966), the 2003 Colombia Space Shuttle, and of course the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle. Why haven’t we learned that stepping outside of our cozy, known (safe?) comfort zones could turn into a debacle or fatal tragedy? What is our malfunction? (laughing)

Is there really a need for further space exploration and interplanetary colonization at the risk of more deaths? Why or why not?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Untapped Worlds – Departure

I pick up where I left off previously in Untapped Worlds — An Intro


A rabbit’s foot, a rosary, black-eyed peas on New Year’s day, ghosts, witches, vampires, devils and angels, are all beliefs or superstitions which thrive in human brains. Why?

As noted in the previous post, our brains work on an average 12.6 watts per “normal” day awake. The brain must work very efficiently in order to maintain a good survival-rate for the rest of our body on a mere 12.6 watts of metabolic-energy. It makes deductions, connections, and inferences, spotting patterns and drawing conclusions, and makes predictions into the immediate and near futures. It stores this information for later too, sometimes accurate, sometimes partly accurate, and sometimes completely inaccurate. It also trashes or blocks information for what it perceives as the “best survival mode,” or the worst, for the moment or later, right or wrong.

Superstitions can bend or change history. In 1976 NASA’s Viking I orbiter took around 50,000 high-resolution photos of the Martian surface never seen in such detail by human eyes. The mission to the red planet was to find evidence of possible life. One particular image seemed to clearly show a giant face with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth that measured approximately 1-mile in width. Observers immediately began seeking answers, seeking meaning to why and how the face was there. Many of the explanations were that an advanced species of aliens had built the face. If anything this NASA photo convinced much of the public that extraterrestrial life was at least probable. A vintage 19th century photo of a couple became a sensation in art galleries because it possessed an oversized “Jesus-head” superimposed on the man (see slide show). Whether the gentleman in reality had his daughter on his knee, people could not see anything else in the image accept the large head.

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The imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it actually does not exist is called pareidolia. Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani of Harvard University says this neuro-phenomena has been hardwired over several 100,000 years into our brain. We try to detect faces from birth. Hadjikhani’s studies show that newborns direct their attention toward general facial features as opposed to random shapes. Neuroscientist Joel Voss at Northwestern University explains that to make sense of an image we “assign meaning to them — usually by matching them to something stored in long-term knowledge. But sometimes things that are slightly “ambiguous” get matched up with things we can name more easily — resulting in pareidolia.” This is a product of our own expectations or desires, also called self-generated illusions. And often, once you get them embedded into your head, it is very difficult to unthink them. We have an evolutionary tendency to construct order out of perceived chaos because chaos is seen as a threat to survival. Hence, “death” has a plethora of human illusions and superstitions attached to it. Can you name a few?


Believe it or not, your brain lies to you a lot. And believe it or not, falsehoods and history go hand in hand, both on a personal as well as a global level. Whether you’re comfortable with it or not, it is practically impossible to know exactly what is fact or what is fiction, or a version of it somewhere in between.

New York Daily News archive via Getty Images

New York Daily News archive via Getty Images

A well told story can make a person believe in almost anything. Case and point, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air enactment of an alien invasion of Earth broadcasted on the radio in 1938. This mass hysteria caused by the radio broadcast was later retold as “never before seen in the annals of news broadcasting!” But in reality the numbers of panicked listeners were insignificant due to another much more popular radio show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour airing at the same time. Only a tiny audience was actually listening to Welles’ Mercury Theatre. The asserted “nation’s hysteria” was sensationalized and inflated by none other than the major newspaper corporations who had been losing large amounts of advertising revenue to radio. Seizing upon the retribution opportunity provided by Welles, they launched a discrediting campaign against radio newscasts. Otherwise, the “panic-inciting” War of the Worlds broadcast would have never become an overgrown myth. The Salem Witch Trials would be another case and point to the power of well told stories of fiction (fear) versus facts.

Why do political candidates practice public speaking, body language, and appearance to their TV or campaign-tour audiences? Why do major fashion and cosmetic companies hire celebrity endorsements for advertising their products and services? Why do sporting companies like Nike or Under Armour do the same? It is called the Halo Effect and it permeates our decision-making all the time.

The halo effect is not only evident purely by appearances either. It can be shown by personalities. For example, a job applicant with an outgoing friendly personality will on average be rated by an employer as intelligent, competent, and qualified more times than one with an introverted quite personality. And even being aware of the halo effect does not guarantee your perceptions or decisions can avoid it. Diminishing its influence takes a lot of disciplined cognitive training to counter it because our own sphere of influence and personal highly subjective life experiences often dictate our decisions between real, the possible, and the unreal or impossible.

What Must We Do?

courage fulfillsThe first thing we must do is to accept the reality that our brain and its perceptions and interpretations of our self, the world in which we live, and the nature of others can be irrationally conceived. Like it or not our brains are naturally narrow-minded beginning at birth, through our childhood and adolescence, and into young adulthood. To an ever-growing extent our perceptions and conceptions are solely dependent upon many variable factors. Factors such as social, environmental, educational, political, familial, or psychological, telling the observer (us) what is being observed or being sensed. This is known as extrapolation.

The only way to reduce extrapolation, variances, or estimation, and gain more truth and precision is to test, question, and verify, sometimes repeatedly with new or modified factors. And the only way to move beyond the relative known… is to depart for the unknown. Otherwise, our brains are more susceptible to deception, superstitions, ambiguity, and flawed memory which can lead to a life not fully lived, or worse lived falsely. Besides, what are you or would you be really leaving? After these two blog-posts of how extremely limited and flawed our brains are, do you even know, with certainty, what life would be best and what life worse…honestly? Untie yourself, depart, and find out.

The next post in this series will be Untapped Worlds — Entries.
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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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After Dark – Part 2

For astronomers, cosmologists, astrophysicists, or the amateur stargazer, the years 2013, 2014, and 2015 are three of the more active years for Earth’s heavens, the Moon, and our solar system!  In Part One I covered some stargazing basics, how the night sky is arranged in our two hemispheres and some short history behind the naming of two constellations Orion and Virgo.  In this second part let’s explain why these next three years are so extraordinary.

The Celestial Shows Are Here!

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Ringmaster opens, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, turn your eyes to the heavens!  The most extraordinarily rare spectacular-spectacular is happening for the next three years!


Earlier this year between March and April the comet Pan-STARRS was visible with a good pair of binoculars or amateur telescope.  However, in an area of medium-to-heavy light-pollution Pan-STARRS would have been hard to locate.  May 24th through 30th you would have watched Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter dance around each other in the west-northwest twilight sky shortly after sunset.  Every evening they were changing positions noticeably with Venus and Jupiter separated by about 1-degree on May 28th and Venus outshining Jupiter by six times.

On June 23rd at 6:00 a.m. CDT, the moon was as close to Earth as it will ever be in 2013 and at 6:32 a.m. it was brightest and fullest, known affectionately as a Super Moon.  Larger than normal ranges in ocean tides occurred for several days.  In 2014 it will arrive even closer than this year.

August 12th will be the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.  At a rate of up to 90-meteors-per-hour it is considered one of the best displays of meteors for a single observer.  Summer campers love the annual shower as it resembles a non-stop array of white bottle-rockets everywhere in the night sky.

Comet-ISON-peri-in-westMid-November through December is perhaps the biggest event in astronomy for 2013.  The Comet ISON will travel less than 750,000 miles above our sun’s surface, making it a very bright “sungrazer” on Nov. 28th, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  ISON could very well be easily visible in broad daylight at its closest point to the sun.  Then ISON will travel toward Earth getting as close as 40-million miles in December.  Because the comet will be ideally placed in the morning and evening sky from the Northern Hemisphere, it will most likely be one of the most watched and photographed comets of all time.

The entire month of December will be a stargazer’s extravaganza!  Venus will put on the most brilliant “evening star” show of 2013 and 2014 combined; evening or morning…doesn’t matter.  She fills the southwestern sky for 3 hours of bravos after sundown in early December, and 1.5 hours after sundown by New Year’s Eve.  And if that were not enough, a crescent moon will pass above and to the right of the goddess Dec. 5th and on the 6th she will give her grand finale!  She will not be as spectacular again until 2021.

On December 13th and 14th a most entertaining show will take place:  the Geminid Meteor Shower.  Most astronomers and meteorists give it top accolades as it surpasses even the brilliance and reliability of August’s Perseid annual showers.  Our near full moon will dilute most of the smaller fainter meteors, however, right after the moon sets (4:30 a.m. EDT), it will leave the sky completely dark for an hour or so, and that is your chance to witness as much as 2 meteor sightings per minute, or 120 per hour!  Indeed, the night sky will look like an American 4th of July fireworks show!


March 27th Perihelion – Comet Holmes.  After almost two days in Oct. 2007, the Holmes comet became a half-million times brighter on its way to becoming the largest object in our solar system.  Yes, larger than our Sun.  Comet Holmes will be one of the more spectacular comets at its perihelion in 2014.

Path of Comet 209P/LINEAR

Path of Comet 209P/LINEAR

March 29th Perihelion – Comet Faye.  Discovered in 1844 by a French astronomer it is a periodic comet but will be minor in comparison to the year’s other comets.

May 6th Perihelion – Comet 209P/LINEAR.  If astronomers are correct, Earth will pass through the tail of 209P/Linear on its way back out from the Sun between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. GMT on May 24th, resulting in a meteor storm of 100-400 meteors per hour.  Canada and the U.S. will have the best viewing.  This date is a must on your calendar!

August 10thSuper Moon.  “According to NASA, a full moon at perigee is up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than one at its farthest point, or apogee.  The full Moon, occurring less than one hour away from perigee, is a near-perfect coincidence that happens only every 18 years or so.” [Wikipedia]

Possible view of Comet C/2013-A1 from NASA Mars rover

Possible view of Comet C/2013-A1 from NASA Mars rover

August 12th – 14th will be the annual return of the Perseids Meteor Shower and its 60-meteors per hour at its peak on the 13th and 14th.  Some of the early and late meteors arrive from July 23rd through Aug. 22nd.  It radiant point, or source spot, will be in the Perseus constellation in the northeast sky after midnight.

October 19th – 25th is shaping up to be the biggest event of 2014:  Comet C/2013-A1, aka Siding Spring.  Astronomers currently calculate a 1 and 8,000 chance that C/2013-A1 will hit the surface of Mars on Oct. 19th.  The comet will pass, following its normal path, about 73,000 miles from the surface of Mars.  As the date nears and further observations are made, scientists will refine the orbit predictions.  Nevertheless, preparations are already being made to develop high-tech observations both around Mars as it approaches the planet, and on Earth as it approaches the Sun.  Mars vs. C/2013-A1 comet.

December 13th – 14th and the annual Geminids Meteor Shower won’t be as spectacular as 2013, but it will produce about 60 multicolored meteors per hour at the peak on the 13th and 14th.  The radiant point or source spot will be in the Gemini constellation in the eastern sky after midnight.

Rosetta European spacecraft.  In January 2014 Rosetta will awake from hibernation to fire-up its engines and get within 3,000 km of comet CG as it starts its return orbit back to our Sun.  In 2010 Rosetta flew within 3,000 km of asteroid Lutetia closely examining its surface and makeup.  Since then Rosetta has been cruising through the deepest parts of our solar system – a billion kilometers from the Sun – where that distance generates such little solar power she had to go into hibernation until comet CG approached.  In January 2014 after Rosetta nears CG, it will literally harpoon it so it can place the robot Philae on its surface.  As comet CG returns to our solar system to head towards our Sun, Philae will send scientific data back to Earth.


January 30th Perihelion – Comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke.  The Pons-Winnecke comet is a Near Earth Comet (NEC) and will pass Earth’s surface only about 3.5 million miles away, or about fifteen times the distance to the Moon.  It probably won’t be visible by the naked eye, but a good pair of binoculars will assist in seeing this faint comet that comes around every 6.36 years.

February Dawn spacecraft.  NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is the first of its kind to use the highly efficient ion propulsion engine.  Ion thrust engines must be in an environment devoid of any other ionized particles – deep space is the perfect example of such an ideal environment for this engine system.  During February Dawn will rendezvous with one of two large asteroids (Vesta in 2012 and Ceres) classified as dwarf planets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Dawn will spend several months examining Ceres and its surface sending back to Earth the first close-up images of a dwarf planet in our Solar System.

February 22ndThe Union of Venus and Mars.  Conjunctions of planets are rare events and occur only when the very long large planets and their orbits seem to join or cross.  Like lovers, Venus and Mars will be within a half degree of each other in the western sky just after sunset.

March 2nd Perihelion – Comet d’Arrest.  Discovered in 1851, the d’Arrest comet has an orbital period of 6.54 years around the Sun so it is a frequent visitor.  Like Pons-Winnecke it too will be very faint to the naked eye.

July 14thNew Horizons spacecraft.  Launched in January 2006, NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons arrives at the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons after a nine and a half-year journey.  It will capture the first close-up images of the planet and moons then continue out to the Kuiper-belt for images of icy objects at the outer edge of our Solar System.

August 12th – 14th is again the annual Perseids Meteor Shower.  See 2014 information above.

2015 conjunction will look like this May 2013 conjunction!

2015 conjunction will look like this May 2013 conjunction!

October 28thPlanetary Ménage à Trois.  A conjunction of three planets is very rare event and will be quite the spectacle in the early morning eastern sky before sunrise.  Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will be in a tight 1-degree triangle of consummation!

November 17th – 18th is the return of the Leonids Meteor Shower with an average of 40 meteors per hour at its peak.  During its 33-year cyclic peak hundreds of meteors are produced per hour.  This last occurred in 2001.  Some of its early arriving then late arriving meteors can be seen between Nov. 13th and 20th.  The radiant point can be found in the constellation Leo after midnight.

December 13th – 14th is again the annual Geminids Meteor Shower.  See 2014 information above.

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“Perchance to Dream”

It will be a 1-in-a-million lifetime jaw-dropping event to see.  Well, actually in less than 1-million years.  Yes, sadly we won’t be around to witness it, but the Betelgeuse Supernova will be brighter, much brighter than our own full Moon!  It will be easily visible in daytime for several months so don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the second coming with another Star of Bethlehem, but instead the wonder of the cosmos with the Star of Betelgeuse!

The star is well-known among avid stargazers because it is the second brightest star in the Orion constellation and because of its size, color, and placement.  It is the red supergiant star in Orion’s “right shoulder” and ranks as the eighth brightest star in our entire night sky.  For some perspective, Betelgeuse is so huge that if it were our own Sun, its outer edges would touch Jupiter!  It is approximately 640 light years away from our Sun.  If it were to explode at night in our lifetime, it might look something like this…

Cosmologists and astronomers predict it will go super-nova in 1-million years or less because it is a “runaway star”.  In other words, due to its super size and mass, it will burn-up, collapse on itself, and create such an explosion that from even 640 light years away, it will be well beyond the brightest super-nova EVER recorded in Earth’s history!  If you can imagine any major global event throughout all of history, Betelgeuse will dwarf that.  For those several months, Earth’s night sky will seem like endless twilight until sunrise!  Wouldn’t that be the most remarkable thing in life to witness?

* * * * * * * * * *

In the final part of this three-part series, I will explain how simple tools and methods can map the night sky, locate major seasonal celestial highlights and their historical backgrounds, and explain why and how humanity will gaze the heavens just as the ancients did without any man-made light-pollution.  If you have enjoyed this part, please let me know by commenting, and check-in every so often for Part 3.

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