Boise Space Scientist Says Seeing Mars Up Close Is Rare Opportunity

May 31, 2016

Mars is making its closest approach to Earth in over a decade, and one scientist says it’s a great time to learn more about the red planet. Boise State University will hold an astronomical viewing party to celebrate Mars Tuesday night.

Dr. Josh Bandfield lives in Boise, but works for the Space Science Institute. That’s a nonprofit based in Colorado that works with NASA on spacecraft missions. Its employees work all around the country on research projects.

Bandfield has studied Mars and the moon. He worked with the old Mars Rovers, and on several other Mars missions. He’s studied the make-up of rocks and dirt on the red planet. He says studying Mars gives scientists a better understanding of planetary systems, including our own.

A look at dunes on Mars from orbit from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/U. Arizona

“These types of things give us a really good example of letting us measure the planets, measure the atmosphere, measure their surfaces to understand better how they work, which gives us a much better sense of how the Earth works,” says Bandfield.

Mars and Earth get relatively close about every 26 months. Bandfield says astronomers love it, because it makes for great telescope viewing of Mars and they can see more detail of the planet.

“When they’re closer together, you get better viewing conditions and it looks relatively large in a telescope. So if they’re really close, you can see more detail. From an astronomy point of view, it’s as good as it gets,” says Bandfield.

Bandfield will give a talk on his Mars research Tuesday night at 8:30 at BSU. Then telescopes will be set up on the Quad north of the Administration Building, to view Mars, along with Jupiter and Saturn.

Here's Hubble's look at Mars courtesy of  NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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