Why Do We Want To Go To Mars And How Long Does It Take To Get There?

Mars, named after the Roman God of War is the next destination in our Solar System for humanity to put “boots-on-the-ground” and explore its dry and dusty surface.

Mars is so attractive to human exploration because it exhibits a geological similarity to our home planet, its has a thin atmosphere and may have once been a harbour for life in the early days of the Solar System. We have see via hi-resolution images and surface rover images that, at some stage in Mars’ ancient past, it was covered in a shallow, liquid water ocean. Perfect conditions for life to begin its first evolutionary steps.

To give you an idea about the challenges that future explorers face, lets look at a couple of features about the famous “Red Planet.”

Mars is about half the size of Earth. Its diameter is 6778Km as compared to Earths diameter of 12756Km which makes it quite a bit smaller than our home planet. It orbits our Sun every 687 days, about twice as long as Earth’s 365.25 days. This difference is due to Mars’ orbit being further out from the Sun. The average distance from Earth to Mars is 166.78 million Km. Like all the other planets in our Solar System, Mars’ orbit has a small amount of Eccentricity – meaning its orbit is elliptical (oval) rather than a circular orbit. This eccentricity can vary from 128 million Km to 154 million Km away from the Sun. Every 26 Earth months, we have an alignment of the Sun, Earth and Mars – this is called “Opposition.” The Opposition of Mars would be an ideal time to launch a mission to the Red Planet due to its proximity to Earth. The journey to Mars, with current rocket technology, is estimated to take between six to nine months. Once on the surface, explorers will have two opportunities to return to Earth. The first opportunity is approximately 30 days from landing on the surface, this will enable the spacecraft to return while Mars is still near Opposition, thereby making the journey while both planets are close in their orbits. The second opportunity is twenty six months later when Earth and Mars are at opposition again. This model is the most favourable, and the most difficult.

See, you would want to spend a good amount of time exploring this planet and thirty days just ain’t enough. Its akin to traveling from Perth to New York, spending 20 minutes at the airport gift shop then hopping back on a plane back to Perth – that’s no way to explore the “Big Apple” and certainly no way to explore Mars (even if they had a gift shop!)

The major set-back for the human exploration of mars is this….. Humans. Human physiology is negatively affected by spending so long in a less than 1G (one Earth gravity) environment. Lack of that 1G is detrimental to the physical health of the explorers going to Mars. Also, you must keep them alive. Water, food, power, radiation shielding, breathable air is a big one….

We’ve been to Mars before, a quite few times before, but with highly successful robot explorers. They seem to do a better job than us squishy humans, I mean, they don’t need air or water or food, they don’t complain, they don’t get home-sick or miss loved-ones, they do what you program them to and they handle cosmic radiation a lot better than this fat-based neuro-processor that controls a meat robot which runs a million year old program called “Survival1.exe”

However, despite the large obstacles before us on the road to Mars, these are not insurmountable. Through Science and Technology, these bumps-in-the-road to Mars can be smoothed out that will allow future explorers to pave the way to a new world full of opportunity, adventure and knowledge.

Wallal Exhibition Showing Now At The GDC

Curved Space and Warped Time – Australia Tests Einstein 1922
The Wallal Exhibition
A group of scientists, historians and students in Western Australia created an exhibition on the Great Wallal Eclipse Expedition that took place in Western Australia less than four years after the First World War. This expedition was a heroic national and international effort that was supported and feted across the country. They measured the warping of space by observing stars during the eclipse of the sun. The expedition confirmed the accuracy of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the theory that revolutionised our understanding of the universe, and the one which we use today every time we use a GPS satellite navigation system. The testing was needed because earlier tests of Einstein’s theory had given inconclusive results despite public claims to the contrary.
This year marks the centenary of the Great Wallal Expidition. Locally, as a discovery made in Western Australia, it is one for which all West Australian’s should be proud. Foundation Professor of Physics at UWA, Professor Alexander Ross played a major role along with scientists from USA, Canada, Britain and India. Today the Wallal Expedition has largely been forgotten, in spite of its immense world significance in proving the theory that underpins our understanding of gravity and the universe. The Wallal Exbibition on show at the GDC and Observatory has been created by a group of scientists, historians and students from UWA and members of the Gravity Discovery Centre and Observstory. The exhibition was funded from National Science Week 2015, Lotterywest and Healthway.
Curved Space and Warped Time – Australia tests Einstein 1922 is located in the cosmology Gallery at the Gravity Discovery Cnetre and Observatory.  A video on a large screen brings the Wallal expedition to life, based on old footage from the Australian Film Archive as well as modern eclipse material and material on the implications of the discovery using modern imagery of the universe of curved space and warped time revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Australian International Gravitational Observatory, now known as OzGrav, The Zadko Optical Telescope and the Geoscience Australia Magnetic
Observatory are located on the same site as the Gravity Discovery Centre. Curved Space and Warped Time – Australia tests Einstein 1922 brings people on a journey of discovery from the first clear sight of curved space near the sun, to our modern understanding of the universe. through time, from the pre-eclipse excitement across Australia in 1922, to the wooden telescopes and donkey trains towing wagons out of the surf on 80 Mile Beach, to the world of today with GPS navigators and the internet.
The exhibition was designed by a team consisting of Sue Graham-Taylor, curator for the National Anzac Centre, Dr Ron Burman: Historical Research, David Blair: Co-ordinator, Damon Annison: Photographer and Graphics Designer, Patrick Obiri-Boateng: Video production
Here are a few interesting facts about the Wallal expedition:
• The location for the Wallal Expedition camp was selected for the presence of a Government well constructed in the late 1870s by Alexander Forrest. Forrest saw it as an important water source for when cattle were later driven south on the way to market. The Wallal eclipse expedition camp – established just north of the well – found the water ‘excellent’ and commented that the well was 16 feet deep and ‘it never fails’. Wallal means ‘abundant water’.
• The Indigenous people made a big contribution to the expedition. Fifty indigenous people met the boats when they landed on Eighty Mile Beach.
• The Royal Australian Navy played a major role in organising and running the expedition.
• The Australian Government arranged for the trans-Australia railway to carry equipment free of charge from Sydney to Perth for on-shipment to Broome and then to Wallal.
• Thirty five tonnes of telescopes and other equipment was brought to Wallal from all over the world, including Toronto and Lick Observatory (California).
• The expedition provided data that confirmed that Einstein was right, and was not improved upon for 50 years.
• The scientists were feted and newspapers across Australia were full of stories about the expedition.
• Aviation pioneers Kingsford Smith and Norman Brearley were involved in the expedition.


“Want to know more about other Wallal eclipse centenary celebrations?

The University of Western Australia & Scitech has a range of events and activities over a two-week period celebrating the centenary of the Wallal eclipse expedition. Click here to find out more for UWA activities and click here for Scitech activities.

Thinking Of Buying Your First Telescope? GDC Astronomer Mitch Answers One Of Our Most Frequently Asked Questions.

So, you want to buy a telescope?
Getting into amateur astronomy can be one of the most rewarding hobbies out there. Wanting to
get a closer look at what’s up there in the night sky is a dream for many; but taking the leap into
buying a telescope can be quite a daunting task.
How much should I spend?
What are all the different types of telescopes?
Which is the best telescope for beginners?
These are all questions I have been asked countless times and there is no short answer to any of
My personal response is do not buy a telescope…
What? Really?
There is nothing that breaks my heart more than to see people with telescopes that sit in the corner
covered in dust and cobwebs. The reason for them being there is people not wanting to put in the
time and effort to learn how to use their telescope properly. This is usually the result of some good
old fashion retail therapy and putting your covid relief payment to good use.
If you are keen on getting into astronomy, I would recommend starting with a good pair of 10×50
binoculars (a decent pair will set you back around $300-$400).
Binos? Really?
Granted you won’t be able to make out the rings of Saturn or the great red spot on Jupiter, but there
is so much that binoculars have to offer! You will be able to see plenty of open clusters, globular
clusters, the Moon, some bright nebulae and even the moons of Jupiter!
I would avoid going for “Astro binoculars” if this is your first time using them, these are usually
15X70 or larger. Dedicated astronomy binoculars can be quite heavy and rather unwieldy to use by
hand. Pretty much all astronomy binoculars come with an adaptor that allows you to mount them on
a camera tripod for much more stable use.
If you can stick with a pair of binoculars for 6 months and spend that time thoroughly learning the
sky, then it’s time to move onto a telescope. If you fall out of love with it at least you will have a pair
of nice binos to take to the footy.
“But Mitch I want a telescope” I hear you say.
Well if you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket the short answer is get yourself an 8
inch dobsonian. There are a number of benefits that dobs have over other telescopes that make
them perfect for beginners. The first is price, in terms of dollars spent per inch of aperture you can’t
beat a Newtonian. The second is the mount, this is what dobsonians are famous for. A ground-based
alt/az mount slapped on top of a lazy Susan makes this the most user-friendly option for telescope
mounting, it’s quite literally point and shoot. Finally, the diversity of objects you will be able to see
through this telescope is what sells it for me. Whether it’s the rings around Saturn, the coloured

belts on Jupiter, clusters, nebulae, or bright galaxies; there is such a diverse range of things you will
be able to see.

An 8 inch dob will set you back around $800 brand new, but there are number on the second-hand
market at around the $600 mark.
A word of warning: There are two things that you should never do to your telescope as a beginner.
1. Clean the mirror, even if its dusty. That dust is going to have a marginal impact on the optical
performance of the mirror. If you take to it with Windex you will be doing more harm than
you know.
2. Adjust the collimation screws on the bottom of the telescope. Unless you know what your
are doing just don’t, you risk throwing you collimation completely out and rendering your
telescope useless until corrected properly.

In closing there is no best beginner telescope and the recommendations I have made here are purely
my opinion. Get out there and start exploring the night sky!
P.S. if you are really struggling check out our tame your telescope course for some hands on help.