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Mars Watch packed them in

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Whistler’s John Nemy and Carol Legate of the Pacific Observatory are estimating that at least 800 people turned out to Rainbow Park on Aug. 27 to get a closer look at Mars through one of eight telescopes. Randy Goodwin also brought his telescopes to the park for the Mars Watch event.

At about 55 million kilometres, Mars was closer to earth than it has been for up to 60,000 years. The next time it passes this close won’t be until the year 2287.

While some of the visitors may have been surprised by the turnout, Nemy said he was expecting something like this.

"We’ve done this kind of event before with these kinds of numbers. We’ve had even larger crowds at events like that," he said. "It’s definitely rewarding."

For Nemy and Legate, the crowd shows that there is a demand for this kind of educational experience in Whistler.

They also confirm that there is definitely an audience for what the Pacific Observatory hopes to accomplish – the creation of an observatory and theatre in the Whistler area housing Canada’s largest and most powerful public telescope.

Nemy and Legate have already started to look for sites for next summer and are planning to purchase a telescope with a reflecting mirror of 30 inches, or approximately one metre.

Nemy and Legate lived in Whistler until 1997, and were famous for hosting astronomy nights at the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain. They put together their own multimedia presentations, which they gave in a little theatre that was sponsored by Kodak.

After the presentation, the group would go outside to view what they had seen through telescopes.

Nemy and Legate returned to Whistler last fall with the goal of building an observatory in the Whistler area. They think they’ve found a place to set up shop, but they haven’t committed to anything yet.

They believe that celestial events, like the appearance of Mars, and the country’s largest public telescope could ultimately be a tourist draw to the resort as well as a resource for interested locals.

According to Nemy, Mars will be visible through the rest of the fall, and will appear higher and higher on the horizon as the sun goes down. Jupiter and Saturn will be more visible in the fall and winter.

Other celestial events to look out for include a lunar eclipse on Nov. 9 and the Leonid Meteor shower on Nov. 17.

"There’s always lots going on up there," said Nemy.

Through many of the telescopes set up at Rainbow Park, you could see the disc of mars, with the polar cap plainly visible, as well as dark patches on the surface of the planet.

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