October 14, 2020 at 2:15pm
Dane Lisser

Requarth Observatory offers glimpse of the Red Planet

Skywatchers on Oct. 13 were treated to an extraordinary site as Planet Mars reached opposition. 

During opposition, Mars, Earth and the sun form a straight line, with Earth in the middle. As a result, the planet appears bigger, brighter and redder than usual, not reaching this close to Earth again until 2035.

Mars oppositions occur at roughly 26-month intervals, when Earth catches up to Mars as the planets circle the Sun. This year's opposition was special because it occurred close to when Mars reached the point in its orbit that was closest to the Sun, called perihelion. This year, Mars reached perihelion on Aug. 3 and since that date has slowly been moving farther from the Sun.

Millikin University Professor of Mathematics Dr. Daniel Miller provided a simulcast of Mars at opposition from the Requarth Observatory, Millikin's public telescope located on the fifth and sixth floors of the Leighty-Tabor Science Center. Built in 2000, the Requarth Observatory is the largest publicly available telescope in Illinois.

In addition to the main telescope, the Leighty-Tabor Science Center also features an observation deck on the fifth floor that surrounds the base of the dome. This observation deck provides the perfect platform to set up smaller 8" telescopes that are commonly used in introductory astronomy classes.

Along with a live Q&A session during the simulcast, 2010 Millikin graduate Dr. Robert Arn joined the conversation to discuss astrophotography. After graduating from Millikin, Arn earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 2016. He currently works as a software engineer at Northrop Grumman in Aurora, Colo. His current research focuses on image processing, video processing, optimization, machine learning, large data analysis, geometric data analysis and large data analysis.