Mars loves ya baby!

If you look hard enough on this Valentine’s Day you’ll even find signs of love on Mars. No kidding. I hope you’ll enjoy this selection of photos from the Red Planet featuring one of humanity’s favorite shapes in the world — the heart. They were all taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft which returned more than 240,000 photos to Earth over its nearly ten-year lifetime.

The hearts are formed of everything from collapse pits to craters to mesas and look eerily similar in shape to that box of chocolates we’ll be breaking into later today. Mars hearts tend to be on the dusty side compared to the caramel and raspberry filled confections of Earth. 

The mesa (top) is about 279 yards across and located in the south polar region. The photo below shows a 1.4 mile-wide pit, the right wall of which likely collapsed creating a remarkably symmetrical heart. 

And there are more …


Top row from left: a low mesa 2,086 feet wide, a depression 1240 ft. wide and a mesa on a crater floor 390 ft. wide. Bottom: all three are depressions ranging from 1,591 to 3,273 ft. wide. Photos by Malin Space Science Systems /NASA/JPL

The special treat mentioned in the title refers to an amazing trio of planets and a super-thin crescent moon visible just 15 minutes after sunset in the west-southwest sky tonight. The Duluth, Minn. forecast is dour but if you have clear skies and can see right down to the west-southwest horizon I encourage you to watch this event. Not only is a close gathering of two planets and the moon rare, but the moon will be exceptionally delicate.


To see the young moon Sunday evening, be sure you’re out at sundown or a little before. Look just a few degrees above the sunset point with binoculars to find the planets and moon. On the East Coast the moon will be only 20 hours old, while on the West it will be 23 hours and a bit easier to find. Created with Stellarium

New moon occurred yesterday at 8:51 p.m. That means that at 5:45 p.m. today (sunset in Duluth), the moon will be only about 21 hours old. It’s not often most of us get to see a one-day-old moon let alone one that’s 21 hours. The crescent will be so thin it won’t appear as a continuous arc. Instead, you’re likely see it broken into segments from shadows cast by craters and mountains on the moon’s surface.

Last night I easily found Jupiter with 8×40 binoculars 15 minutes after sunset; five minutes later it was visible with the naked eye. Unfortunately I missed Venus because my horizon was gobbled up by a distant ridge. Seeing Jupiter was encouraging because it meant that at least the moon should be visible directly across from it tonight. Venus will be more challenging. Start with binoculars on the trio and then attempt to spot each with the naked eye alone.

We’d love to know if you succeeded in observing this celestial trifecta. Send an e-mail to: rking@duluthnews.com  Photos are appreciated!

I had planned to write more about the asteroid Vesta and still do, but I’ve got several other commitments today and need to step away for a while. It is Valentine’s Day after all ;) Watch for the sequel "Vesta Visits Earth 2" in tomorrow’s blog. Love and kisses, and as Robert Frost once said: "Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."  – A.B.

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