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Thousands watch Mars at observatory

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A once-in-a-lifetime event occurred last Friday and Saturday nights, as the Department of Physics’ Center for Astrophysics opened the observatory on top of Nieuwland Hall for Mars Nights at Notre Dame. The occasion? Mars is now closer than it has been for roughly 60,000 years, or will be for another 284.

The Center had expected few people to show up, but the turnout was far greater than they had anticipated.

“We were expecting a dismal turnout, but we were surprised by how many people came,” said Suzanne Aleva, a senior administrative assistant who helped coordinate the event.

In fact, 1,500 people were able to participate on Friday night, while 1,300 got to look through a telescope Saturday night.

Both nights saw people turned away around 11:15, when the lines were cut off because of the higher-than-expected turnout. Lines had been forming outside Nieuwland since 8:30, with the program beginning at 9:30.

According to associate professor Peter Garnavich, two nights were originally scheduled in case one night was too cloudy to use the telescopes.

However, this proved not to be the case.

“The weather turned out to really be great, and we were able to see a lot,” Garnavich said.

“We were really happy with that, especially considering the number of people who came.”

The observatory normally does not hold public programs, and Garnavich.

“It turned out to be a really incredible response to a unique event, and we saw it as a great opportunity,” Garnavich said.