Hey Sky Fans!
Before I get to today’s excitement, I got a thing (I think that’s a technical term) saying I put up my 200th post a few days ago. Thanks for following, standing by and reading along with me. I appreciate it very much. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed writing.
With all the news about the other planets inferiorly conjuncting this and opposing that, I’ve been thinking a bunch about Mars lately. I don’t usually think much about Mars. Not for any real reason; I just don’t. We’re learning incredible things about it so often these days that it’s hard to keep up. Maybe I take it for granted. It’s been gorgeous in the nights’ skies since last spring. We’ve been moving farther from it for a while, I hope you’ve also enjoyed watching it dim and shrink as we orbit away.
This brings me to this week’s Word of the Week! Someone hit the music…
Sol was the name of a friend of my grandparents, a good guy who, despite my efforts to thwart him, taught me how to swim. One day, I was about to leave for a trip to the place with the rockets (Kennedy Space Center) with my grandfather. Sol talked and talked about Mars (it was his favorite planet) and how, one day, we’d get people there. I was used to people like him, older people with a thick, Brooklyn Yiddish accent, talking about food and stickball, or about who said what to whom about whose sister who was sick with some barely whispered disease, but never about space. It’d been only a few years since Apollo 17 came home, and, sure, Mars was right down the street. Why not? One thing was for sure, though: I was going to learn how to swim, with him showing me how, in that pool, before I headed back to New York. “No grandson of my friend is going to start first grade…!”
It’s a million years ago now, more or less, but I like to think one of the things Sol and I talked about was how interesting it is that Mars’s day only a little longer than Earth’s. It’s s 24 hours, 39 minutes; only about 40 minutes longer. Little nuggets like these have always inspired me. It’s particularly interesting when you consider that all of the outer planets rotate very quickly, and the other two inner planets very slowly. Yet, here’s Earth and Mars, forever tied together by, myth, art and folklore, with almost the same axial tilt, years (and seasons) that are almost exactly twice as long; almost the same day length.
A sol is the name used for a Martian solar day – the time it takes for the sun to return to the same meridian in the sky as seen from the ground; effectively the time between Martian noons. For most purposes, the word sol simply means “day,” but on Mars. With a sol longer than a day, a Martian year is 684 Earth days long, but 668 Martian sols.
There are no named months on Mars, so the sols are just listed numerically. When Curiosity settles in for the night and writes in its journal about what happened, it’s “Sol 686: The sands continue off as far as I can see. So red. So very red. A year has passed since I wrote my note…”
With science happening there, on the Martian ground, the scientists who work with the labs, the rovers, live on a Martian schedule so they can make the most out of each sol’s sunlight. For every Martian sol they work, their regular life day is pushed another 40 minutes out of line with everyone else’s. That’s two hours every three days. It’s not long before it’s breakfast at 2 AM, and drinks with the coworkers at 11. This could play some serious games with their lives. Still, they push themselves so we can all learn.
If you see Mars in tonight’s sky, you’re looking at the Martian daytime. I love the idea that as we watch, there are machines that were designed and built, and are operated by people here, sent there to do work that we can’t yet. When it’s daytime there, those rovers are going about their sols, crawling through the dust, and teaching us about ourselves; showing us where we can go. As Sol might have said, maybe one sol.
Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!