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Decoding the Red Planet

by vrecinto on December 19th, 2014

An artist’s rendition of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is superimposed on the rim of Victoria Crater on the Martian surface. Cornell /JPL/NASA


This talk was rescheduled due to Hurricane Anna.

Next Maunakea Skies Talk January 16, 2015

Speaker: Dr. Bo Reipurth, Institute for Astronomy (IfA)

Topic: Mars, the Red Planet, in Culture and Science

Time: Friday January 16, 2015 at 7 p.m. in the ‘Imiloa Planetarium

Mars is the planet in our Solar System that is closest in appearance to our Earth. It has a thin atmosphere with clouds, polar ice caps, volcanoes, major dry riverbeds, valleys, and deserts. Its axis is tilted, so it has seasons like here on Earth. These similarities to Earth have caused much speculation about life on Mars, originally inspired by the discovery of “canals” on Mars, erroneously believed to be signs of an advanced civilization that was attempting to survive as their planet dried out. These ideas have inspired many novels, movies, and radio programs, the most famous was Orson Welles 1938 broadcast “The War of the Worlds,” which caused widespread panic.

Modern studies of Mars have been helped by a large number of satellites put into orbit around the planet, as well as several rovers, some of which are at the moment driving around on the Martian surface, providing amazingly detailed photos of the landscapes of Mars.

“All these studies indicate that Mars was warmer and wetter in a distant past, likely with shallow oceans covering part of the surface. This has led to renewed discussion of the possibility that microbial life could have formed in the past and survived in subsurface layers,” states Dr. Reipurth.

Now, present and future space missions are charged with finding out if life still exists on Mars. Future studies will be discussed, including plans for sending men to Mars within a few decades. This talk will summarize the changing views of Mars from antiquity to the present day, and will be illustrated with many of the stunning images brought back from the missions to Mars.

As a small child, one of Bo Reipurth’s first astronomical experiences was looking at the craters of the Moon and the rings of Saturn through the telescope at a public observatory in his native Copenhagen. After that experience, he never doubted that he would become an astronomer.Bo_MK

Reipurth received his PhD from the University of Copenhagen in 1981. After several years there as a postdoctoral researcher, he worked as a staff astronomer with the European Southern Observatory in Chile for 11 years. He then spent four years at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy(CASA) of the University of Colorado as a research professor. He joined the IfA in Honolulu in 2001 and moved to the Hilo office in 2004.

Reipurth is the coauthor (with frequent collaborator John Bally) of “The Birth of Stars and Planets.” Published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press, it contains many beautiful color pictures of sites of star birth and text that is very accessible to nonscientists. He is also a member of the UH NASA Astrobiology Institute Lead Team, a cross-disciplinary group that is studying the relationship of water in the Universe to the development of life.

Maunakea Skies program will be hosted by Cam Wipper, ‘Imiloa planetarium staff. He will provide observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, pointing out prominent constellations and stars one can see during this time of year.
The monthly Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. Cost is $8 for Individual, Dual, Kupuna and Family Members; $6 for Patron Members; Free for Silver, Gold and Corporate Members. Non-member rate is $10. Pre-purchase tickets at the ‘Imiloa front desk or by phone at 969-9703.

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, go to, or call (808) 969-9703.

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