2003 OPPOSITION    The close approach of Mars in late summer 2003 stimulated considerable activity at Lick Observatory. Astronomers Bill Sheehan, Tony Misch, and Rem Stone conducted a remarkable project using the Lick 36" Refractor, which is well suited for planetary observations. The presence of my camera was graciously accommodated in documenting this historic event.

TWO WEEKS ON MARS  •  This link will take you to the acclaimed website on which the project is chronicled, with writings describing our program, drawings of Mars made by observers past and present, and a photo gallery. Site will open in a new window.

2005 OPPOSITION  •  We reconvened in the fall of 2005, joined this time by the esteemed Mars scholar and observer Masatsugu Minami, and a guest observer from England, John Fletcher. 

After my colleagues departed, Rem operated the telescope and I continued to draw at the eyepiece of the Great Refractor during virtually every observable night through mid-December. Although not blessed with the peerless seeing we experienced in 2003, I studied Martian colors intently when other features were obscured, as I had been taught by Minami Sensei.

Quoted below is an email written to my brethren in mid-November 2005:

"Monday and Tuesday nights, Oct 31 and Nov 1 PST, for the first time in my life, I spent the entire night observing in the 36". That is, we began at the earliest time, and ended at the latest time that I could draw Mars. The tracking telescope eased across the sky, and I stepped the floor down, then back up again, gradually scooting my drawing trolley around the dais. I thought to myself, this is what astronomers have experienced in this dome for over a century. How extraordinary that I, a neophyte observer, should be granted this rare experience-of-a-lifetime.

"Early Thursday morning, Nov 3, I had one of those "aha" moments, when one is awestruck, when time stops. The seeing was only average, but the colors of the planet were sublime, and I felt as if I was perceiving Mars in its wholeness, not just the features and spots and details that I had been straining to resolve. This has happened several times since, and I can only assume that each of you has experienced this as well."

Alas, I did not see the fabled canali.


Two Weeks on Mars

Communications in Mars Observations


Selected titles by William Sheehan:

The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery

Planets and Perception


FULL SCREEN: toggle F11