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College Course 11
Late Renaissance Thoughts
& the New Universe

Math 5
Geometry in Art & Architecture
Unit 10. Celestial Themes
in Art & Architecture

Observing Mars for CoCo 9

This assignment requires you to make your own observations of the night sky, and it is one of three graded assignments for this course. In addition to tracking the motion of Mars, you should use the journal entries as an opportunity to respond to the readings we are doing for class. We will collect your journals and read them at a few intervals throughout the course, and expect to see your responses to the intervening readings as well as a complete collection of data entries for the position of Mars. Please keep all your entries in consecutive order in a bound notebook.

From now until the end of the quarter, Mars will be visible in the night sky just after sunset. Your job is to track its motion. Along with all the stars, Mars makes a complete circuit of the sky from roughly east to west every single night. This is not the motion in question! Unlike the "fixed stars", Mars is a planet, which means "wanderer". Mars actually moves in relation to the fixed stars. Therefore, to track this motion of Mars you should first obtain some kind of star map and learn to locate the constellations currently near Mars. There are star maps on the web and also at any bookstore. At the start of winter quarter 2000 you can find Mars somewhere between the constellations of Capricorn and Aquarius.

To get a good idea of the motion of Mars you will need to observe it as often as possible. Any astronomer will tell you that this means you must look for it every evening that the weather allows. You will want to find a good location for your observations because of the surrounding buildings and hills. Mars is close to the horizon right now and you might need some elevation to see it easily. Because we are trying to understand the astronomy that preceeded Galileo, you may not use a telescope for your observations, but you are free to design other devices to help you get an accurate statement of Mars' position. It is also a good idea to watch the sky with a friend, especially if you are not accustomed to locating constellations. Take a flashlight along to read your star map and write your notes. If you want that full Renaissance experience, use a candle instead.

Stargazing was a ubiquitous activity during the time period we are studying. The observations you are making would have been noticed by all of the astronomers, mathematicians and writers whose works we are reading. Cardinal Bellarmine and Marcellus Palingenius would both have been aware of Mars' progress through the sky. Use your observations as a starting point for responding to the readings we are doing in class, as they come along.

© All rights reserved.  Mara Sabinson and Dorothy Wallace  
  November 1999  Dartmouth College