Local observatory set to view Mars Wednesday

SCHRIEVER – As global spectators prepare for a rare close-up of Mars, Thibodaux-Houma residents can catch the sight for about the price of a movie.

The St. George Observatory and Science Center in Schriever will be open from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 3:30 a.m. Thursday for locals who want to view Mars.

Ken Stage, the observatory’s owner and operator, said it will be one of the best times local residents can take advantage of the close-up view.

Mars will be about 34.6 million miles away, and while that may seem distant, it’s the closest the Red Planet has been to Earth in nearly 60,000 years.

Students and children can get in for the viewing for a $6 donation to the observatory, while adults can for $7.

Stage said Mars will rise on the horizon shortly after 8 p.m., but the best viewing time locally will be around 11 p.m. Over the past few weeks, Stage said he has had groups of people out to view the planet as its orbit swings closer to Earth. Looking through his research-grade eyepiece, viewers have been able to see surface details and the polar ice caps of Mars, which Stage noted are melting as the planet draws closer to Earth and the Sun.

For anyone wanting to see all the wonders of the cosmos, Stage recommended staying all night to about 3 or 4 a.m., when the southern sky will be just right for a good show.

“Late summer viewing is excellent because you have all these jewels,” said Stage, ticking off a list of star clusters, nebulas and galaxies that can be seen in the wee hours of the morning. One of the latest observatory visitors, he said, described the sight as being like “sparkling diamonds on a sea of black velvet.”

The observatory is open from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. weekdays. Special arrangements can be made for groups who want to visit on weekends. Call 448-1934 between 4 and 6 p.m. to make reservations.