Press Release

Lowell Observatory Presents Virtual Mars Series

By SpaceRef Editor
October 8, 2020
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n celebration of Mars’s close approach in October, Lowell Observatory is offering weekly virtual programs about the red planet ( The programs run on the evenings of October 13, 20, and 27 and will be hosted by astronomy historian Dr. Bill Sheehan. Activities will include live virtual telescope views of Mars and interactive discussions with historians and scientists.

Mars makes its closest approaches to Earth during oppositions, which occur every 26 months. Opposition means that Mars is opposite Earth in the sky (Earth is directly between the Sun and Mars). This is a great time to view Mars, since its nearness makes it appear bigger and brighter than usual. Due to the irregular nature of planetary orbits, opposition doesn’t necessarily fall on the exact same date as closest approach. Nor is the distance between Mars and Earth the same for every opposition. In 2020, closest approach was on October 6 (at which time Mars reached its closest point to Earth until 2035) but opposition isn’t until October 13. Despite this disparity, Mars will remain relatively close and ideal for viewing for several weeks.

The 2020 Mars Opposition is very similar to that of 1894, the event that triggered Percival Lowell to found his observatory in order to study Mars and the possibility of intelligent life there.

Program Overview

Participation in the Virtual Mars Series is free and open to anyone. Visit Lowell Observatory’s YouTube page at

Each week’s programming is live and available via Lowell Observatory’s YouTube channel. Festivities will begin at 8 p.m. MST [03:00 UTC the following date] each evening with live viewing of Mars from Lowell Observatory’s Giovale Open Deck Observatory. Lowell educators will then take requests from participants — via the YouTube chat function — for other objects to view. At 8:30 p.m., Sheehan will host discussions about Lowell Observatory’s connection to Mars. See below for details:

Tuesday, October 13: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST
At 8:30 p.m., Dr. Bill Sheehan and Lowell historian Kevin Schindler will discuss the rich history of Mars observation on Mars Hill. They will look at Percival Lowell’s founding of his observatory in Flagstaff and his impassioned search for life on the red planet.

Tuesday, October 20: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST
At 8:30 p.m., Sheehan and Lowell historian Kevin Schindler will pick up where they left off last week as they dive deeper into the history of Mars observation and the research of scientists at the observatory since Lowell’s time.

Tuesday, October 27: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST
At 8:30 p.m., after the stargazing session, researcher Bill Sheehan will discuss the vital research done by the late Nadine Barlow, a physics and astronomy professor at NAU who dedicated her life to studying Martian impact craters. Guest Dr. Jennifer Hanley will discuss her work with Mars. Also a bit about the future of Mars research and exploration.

For more information about Lowell Observatory’s Mars programming, including limited onsite telescope viewing opportunities, see

Kevin Schindler
+1 (928) 233-3210
[email protected]

SpaceRef staff editor.