Category: Mars

2014Aug28_PaulNirmal_C2013A1_C104On October 19, at about 2:30pm EDT, comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will pass within 87,000 miles of the planet Mars (that’s about 1/3 the distance between Earth and the Moon) – and all the world will be watching, including a worldwide network of amateur astronomers known as The PACA Project!

PACA, or Pro-Am Collaborative Astronomy, is the brainchild of planetary scientist Padma Yanamandra-Fisher, who was a member of NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign team last year. In fact, several of PACA’s current members contributed to the ISON campaign, with images, sketches, visual observations, and spectroscopy. And they’ll be providing similar data this weekend, when Siding Spring slips past Mars, and even as the comet continues on to perihelion six days later and back out into the outer solar system soon after. So, not only will this group of amateurs help scientists to learn more about the comet’s planetary encounter as it occurs, they’ll offer an opportunity to research the continuing effects on the comet itself. They’ll also be among the first to offer “encounter” images to the public, as much of the professional data will not be available until the following day.

You, too, can contribute with your own observations – or you can simply follow along as the PACA network updates with its latest images and data. You’ll find the PACA Twitter account here, the PACA FB Community page here, and the PACA C/2013 A1 Flickr album here. If you’d like to try to see the comet/Mars encounter yourself, check-out these tips from Bob King at Universe Today. (BONUS: Bob’s article leads with a stunning image from PACA member, Rolando Ligustri!)

PACA’s pro-am collaboration doesn’t end with Siding Spring. The group is monitoring several other comet events, including the recent fragmentation of a more distant comet, C/2011 J2 Linear. Be sure to keep your eyes on the PACA network, as they share their latest observations and discoveries!

Yes, I did it. Today, on April Fools’ Day, I purchased the naming rights of a Martian crater – but, it’s no joke!

Tethalia Crater Certificate (with personal details obscured)


Uwingu is a worldwide collaboration of scientists, teachers, and other specialists with a “private-sector” goal to fund Space research, education, and even exploration. Already, they have funded projects for Astronomers Without Borders, SEDS, SETI’s Allen Telescope Array, and more, but their support is not limited to formal organizations. Individual astronomers, teachers, and classrooms – in fact, anyone conducting Space-related research and education – are all eligible for Uwingu funding. And one of the most exciting aspects of this endeavor is the fact that it was “jump-started” by people like you and me – individuals and corporations who are passionate about Space. Governments be damned – we’re marching forward, towards the better tomorrow that follows from today’s exploration!

Uwingu has several fund-raising ventures for your participation, including the Mars Crater-naming project, an Exoplanet-naming project, and a Cafe Press store. They also offer free educational materials, for you, your classroom, or your outreach event. There are many ways to contribute, with participation costs ranging from $.99 to cast an exoplanet-naming vote to $5000 to name an Apollo-level Martian crater. If you prefer something you can hold in your hand, you can purchase Uwingu-branded items ranging from less than $2 for a mini magnet to $36 for a sweatshirt. I opted to name a 4-mile-wide, Pathfinder-level, Martian crater. I used a combination of letters from my and children’s names, so that no matter where life takes us, we’ll always be together. I even suggested a little flora and fauna by selecting geological coordinates to coincide with one of our own planet’s tropical paradises. I contributed to education and research, I created an exciting piece of memorabilia for my children, and I had great fun doing it. No fooling!