"Roving Mars" with Steve Squyres
Submitted: Tuesday, 23rd August 2005 by Mike Salway
Last night (22nd August) I attended a talk "Roving Mars", by Steve Squyres who is the principal scientist, and the face and voice of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover missions. It was held at the S H Ervin Gallery, next to the Sydney Observatory, in Sydney.
Steve is touring Australia at the moment, promoting his book of the same name "Roving Mars".
For others, who like me, have paid close attention to the Mars Rover missions over the last 18 months this was a fantastic opportunity to hear Steve speak about his experiences, troubles and problems, stresses and successes.
The talk was very informative and very entertaining. There were many humerous moments combined with some incredible pictures of the mission, both in preparation, planning and ultimately from the rovers on Mars. Many pictures drew gasps and others laughter from the 100 or so strong crowd.
Some of the inspiring pictures and movies included moving dust-devils, a solar eclipse by one of the moons of Mars, a Martian meteorite, a view of Earth from Mars, and of course many pictures of the incredible science they've unearthed while investigating the rocks.
Steve's talk went for about an hour, and he fielded a dozen or so questions afterwards. It was an amazing talk. Everyone in the room was gripped by his words and for someone interested in astronomy and science, it helps to give you a little insight into what it would be like to be a NASA/JPL scientist working on these missions.
There was of course the opportunity to buy his book (AU$49.95, $5 off for Sydney Observatory members), and he took time to sign the books for those interested, afterwards. In a stroke of good luck or forward thinking, I bought my copy of the book before the talk so I didn't have to line up with the 50 other people afterwards :) I was also able to get it signed quickly so I could head on over to the next part of the evening...
We then headed up in groups to the Sydney Observatory, for a 3D-theatre short movie of exploring Mars, and some quick viewing of Jupiter.
The 3D-theatre experience was quite entertaining. It was a combination of computer generated images, as well as real images obtained by the Mars Global Surveyor (I think), taking you on a "tourist" adventure from Earth to the red planet. It was created for the Sydney Observatory by Swinburne University, and the movie was viewed while wearing 3D glasses. It lasted about 10 minutes and was interesting and entertaining.
Unfortunately Mars wasn't visible at the time (would've tied in nicely), but Jupiter was still about 20 degrees above the horizon so we headed up to the North Dome to look at Jupiter through the Observatory's 16" Meade LX200 on a fork mount. It was a lovely looking scope, looks very impressive inside the dome.
I waited in line to get my chance at the eyepiece. There wasn't the usual gasps and "wow"'s that are heard when someone looks at the gas giants through a large telescope, so I was anxious to see what the view was like.
After stepping up to the eyepiece, it became clear.. the image was out of focus and the seeing was absolutely terrible with Jupiter quite low to the horizon. Most of the people would've had no idea how to focus it, so they were looking at a fuzzy blob with the 4 moons visible (2 on each side), the 2 main belts could barely be identified. The image scale looked approx 180x magnification. I focused the image for myself, and the belts came into view, but the disc was still wobbling around due to the terrible seeing and no real details could be resolved. A very disappointing view and it certainly wouldn't have inspired any of the other guests to rush out and buy a telescope.
All in all, it was a very good night - entertaining, fun, informative and inspiring. I had a great time and if Steve is giving a talk near you, I would highly recommend taking the time to attend.
Lastly here's a few pictures taken from Observatory Hill.. all pictures taken with my Sony DSCP100, approx 4 seconds exposures @ ISO200 on a little mini tabletop tripod.