LtE in CMO #286

From Elisabeth SIEGEL

. . . . . . . . Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2003 15:57:10 +0100

Subject: RE: Seasons Greetings


Dear Masatsugu,


Thank you so much for your mail. I read it on December 25th and was eager to answer you right away, but I had to have the Christmas guests out of the house before I could find the necessary time, so I hope you'll excuse me for the delay in writing back to you.


I am very sorry to hear about your health problems. I sincerely hope that your doctor will be able to find the right medication for you; I know, admittedly not from direct personal experience, but from the experience of several close relatives, that even pretty severe heart conditions can be eased marvellously by the right kind of medication. Until you feel better, please take care!


No, we did not have a white Christmas this year (in fact we seldom do in Denmark), but like you in Japan, we ALMOST made it: it snowed during the night on Dec. 21/22, but the snow melted again on the 23rd. I was able to observe Mars in the early evening of the 22nd (my latest observation so far), from a snow-covered garden lawn, and the temperature was minus 6.5 C. It was a COLD observing session!!


Don't be sorry for not writing me before uploading my drawings to the CMO website! I usually visit the website every day, so I saw it almost immediately, and then I knew that you had received my drawings - and I just felt very honored and pleased, as I think I already told you.


I shall now comment on the bright spots of Nov. 19 and 28, in response to your e-mail:


I also got the chance to re-visit one of the areas in question, on Dec. 22, with the CM being 197 at the time I finished the I.L. drawing. I looked for the "Elysium spot", but nothing unusual was seen, be it in I.L. or any color filter. The angular diameter had shrunk to 9.1" by then, as compared to the 12.4" at the time of the observation of the bright spot on November 19.


I must say that spontaneously, I tend to agree more with you than with Richard McKim in his interpretation of the Nov. 19 (Elysium) spot as being surface frost. The Elysium spot was seen in W 47 ONLY, and for all I know, this would place it rather high in the atmosphere; I agree with you that anything representing pure surface frost (with no obscuring cloud or haze above it) should have been visible in W 25 too, and for that matter, in all color filters - similar to the filter behavior of the polar caps when they're free of their obscuring hoods. I must say that I don't quite understand why McKim believes it to be surface frost.


I am glad that you asked me if the spot was glittering, because later I've realized that I actually (unwittingly) left out an important (?) piece of information in my observing notes describing the appearance of the Elysium spot: It was definitely NOT glittering. In fact it wasn't "brilliant" at all, as long as one takes that word to mean having a sort of "glowing" or "sparkling" quality to it. Its brightness solely had to do with its most unusual color: whitish, which is something rarely seen in W 47 (where a bright area will usually be a light violet, with a shining, "brilliant" quality to it). Think of a patch of snow lying on a dark and barren, rocky surface, on a day where the sky is completely overcast. There will be no direct reflected sunlight glittering from the snow, but the snow will still catch your eye as being very bright in contrast to the rest of the landscape. - This was the kind of brightness displayed by the Elysium spot: a rather dull white, surrounded by the deep dark violet of the W 47 in an area that was otherwise not bright in any way in this filter. If it sounds like a very strange sight, this description has probably hit the mark. I have twice before (in 1993) seen a glittering, starlike point in W 47, which however happened to be at the core of some larger cloud verified in other filters; but the Elysium spot was not glittering, and not starlike (as I wrote in the notes, it had a certain visible extent, albeit small, and I was able to marvel at its seemingly perfectly circular shape). I think I can safely say that it was the strangest sight I have seen on Mars so far (although my observing experience is limited).


You also ask me how long it showed up. As it was only seen in W 47, I can only say that it was visible during the time where I used this filter; I only record the beginning and end times for color filter work as a whole, not the specific times where I apply each single filter, but from experience I would say: I must have applied the W 47 filter for about 10 minutes, and since the W 47 was the last filter I used on that specific evening, it seems safe to conclude that I used it from about 18:35 to 18:45 UT. The spot was readily visible during all of this time.


Please allow me to add another note concerning the "Ascraeus Mons spot" of November 28. As I have already mentioned in the notes to this observation, in some respects this spot differed from the Nov. 19 spot: this spot (as seen in W 47) was contained within a larger bright area and did not appear whitish, but light violet (and this time, brilliant). The reason I saw it at all was that it appeared as a very dense, round spot in the midst of an already bright area. But on the other hand, this dense, round spot was so conspicuous that my immediate reaction, with the Elysium spot nine days earlier in mind, was a rather disappointed: - Oh NO, not another one! - You see, at this time I found my observation of the Elysium spot quite interesting and odd, but I was not happy to see something so similar to it here at approximately the same place on the Martian disk. In fact, I saw it as a kind of refutation of my theory of the first spot having anything to do with Elysium Mons and now considered the possibility of some strange Sun-Earth-Mars-geometry being at work here, that would tend to make a bright spot in this place on the disk no matter what the underlying topography or meteorological conditions were like. For I had connected the first spot with the Elysium Mons volcano, but this second time (on Nov. 28) I was fairly sure that there was no volcano in that place that could account for the new spot! - I do not like to think of myself as dumb or ignorant of Martian geography, but to me, Ascraeus Mons is "something just a bit north of the equator" and hence not something I would expect to find so relatively close to the north point of the disk. I simply hadn't taken the heavy southerly tilt of the Nov. 28 Mars into account! - So, in a really disappointed mood, I continued with my observations on Nov. 28, and when I saw the "Ascraeus spot" once more in one of the other filters (either W 58, 15 or 80 A), I did not bother to take notes about this, as I thought that it was enough to record the general visibility of the larger bright area surrounding the spot in this filter - after all, I had already drawn the spot as I had seen it in W 47. - Only later, after the observation, when I consulted my Mars globe and discovered that the new spot could in fact very well be connected with another volcano, namely Ascraeus Mons, did I realize how stupid it was of me not to have recorded in which other color filter the spot had been visible; for it was already too late, I simply couldn't remember.


I just thought that you should know the story behind my (seemingly) curiously nonchalant attitude towards note-taking on Nov. 28. - Thank you for editing my observing notes for this day before uploading them to the CMO website! I couldn't help smiling when I realized that the sentence: "...but I did not take notes of this (stupid!)" had disappeared. It was a nice touch, although basically, I'm quite willing to admit my own stupidity when it occurs.


Thank you for the grids of the Martian surfaces of Nov. 19 and 28. It was not easy to use them directly on my drawings, as my drawings are somewhat smaller than the prints of the grids, but I tried anyway. The results should therefore not be taken too seriously, but this much said, I found the spots on my drawings to deviate no more than approximately 7 degrees in either longitude or latitude from the actual location of the summits of Elysium Mons and Ascraeus Mons (with Ascraeus Mons, surprisingly, being the best fit). At this point I have to add that even though I of course tried to draw the spots in as precise a position on the disk as possible, the observations were made through a W 47 filter, which certainly is difficult to work with, especially with a telescope as small as mine. If I have drawn the spots just two millimeters off to one side on my report form, it means a difference of several hundred kilometers on the actual Martian surface. A scary thought; but I might as well admit that we're now talking about a degree of precision that I simply do not claim to be able to achieve (especially not through W 47). All I can say is: I've tried to do my best, as far as the original drawings are concerned, and the results of my little experiment with your grids turned out to be more promising than I myself had expected; I still believe there is a fair chance that the spots I saw were in fact connected with Elysium and Ascraeus Mons in some way or another. But as I just said - my experimenting with the grids should not be taken too seriously, as the grids do not fit the drawings, so I had to "interpolate" a bit.


Oh, Masatsugu, I'm sorry that this e-mail ended up being so long. But now at least I am satisfied that you have got all the information concerning these spots that there is to get, and I'm glad you asked me those few questions about them. If anyone had asked me these same questions a couple of months from now, I might have forgotten the details, but as it is now, I know that everything I have related to you in this letter is true.


I shall get back to you in not too long, when I send you my December drawings. I've managed to make 7 observations so far this month. Unfortunately, I have not succeeded in seeing the December regional dust storm at all; Mars has been teasing me, it seems, with the dust always being "just around the corner" of the disk, but never on the side facing me.


Now let me finish by once again wishing you a very happy New Year.


Yours sincerely,


P.S. Neither the Japanese nor the Europeans seem to have much luck with their Mars probes these days. Not that I believe this to be the reason for its failure, but don't you think the Beagle 2, with its landing site in Isidis Planitia, could have been dangerously close to the dust core in northern Hellas? - E.


. . . . . . . .Date: Thu, 1 Jan 2004 15:53:42 +0100

Subject: Happy New Year - New drawings coming


Dear Masatsugu,


Happy New Year!


I hope you received my rather long e-mail which was an answer to your nice "Season's Greetings"?


I shall post my December drawings to you either today or tomorrow, so please look out for them. I managed to observe 8 evenings in all in December. These observations might be my last from this apparition, as Wayne, Mira and I will be leaving for a (long!) trip to New Zealand on January 5. We're going to visit an old uncle and aunt of mine, who have been living in Christchurch since 1948. We expect to be back home on February 1, but I'm not sure if it will be possible for me to observe after this date; my south-western horizon is not free, this time regrettably due to tall trees in my own garden! (You can't blame your neighbors for everything!) We'll see what it amounts to, when the time comes.


Thank you for nice correspondence in 2003, and please receive my very best wishes for 2004 to you and your family.


Yours sincerely


. . . . . . . .Date: Fri, 2 Jan 2004 16:59:15 +0100

Subject: Happy Birthday


Dear Masatsugu,


Thank you for the quick reply (it was just so nice to know that the LO-O-ONG e-mail had reached you). And thank you even more for taking your time to reply on your birthday! I hope you spent a very nice and relaxed day with your family. (I suspect I am just one day too late now for wishing you happy birthday on the day itself, but I'm going to do it anyway: happy birthday!!.) Do people also give each other birthday presents in Japan (forgive my ignorance)?


Yes, we expect to come down to nice summer weather in New Zealand. I shall be bringing my good old 60 mm refractor with me, not for Mars, of course, where it would do little good, but to be able to take a peek at the Magellanic Clouds and other selected southern hemisphere wonders of the sky. (I don't travel with the 8-incher. Too much trouble, and too great a risk of it getting damaged. I can't afford a new one.)


Thank you for everything in connection with the 2003 Mars apparition so far. I just have a TINY hope that I'll be able to add a few February observations before closing down for this time, but as I already mentioned to you, chances of that are somewhat slim.


Take care. All the best wishes from


Elisabeth SIEGEL (Malling, Denmark)


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