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“For Discovery of Mars. Congratulations, Prof. Peter Dunsby!”
Image: NASA

It’s uncertain who first discovered Mars, but we do know it was first observed through a telescope by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Galileo’s observation of the Red Planet and many of the other celestial bodies in our solar system was a momentous achievement that kicked off the modern science of astronomy.

But Galileo’s accomplishment pales in comparison to the triumph of University of Cape Town cosmology professor Peter Dunsby, who rediscovered Mars just last week.


Dunsby published a report on the Astronomer’s Telegram—a news service that deals with astronomical events—that described how he detected a “Very bright optical transient near the Trifid and Lagoon Nebulae” on Tuesday evening. (An optical transient is astronomer-speak for a visible moving object in the sky.)

“The object was visible throughout the full duration of the observations and not seen when this field was observed previously,” Dunsby’s report read. “The optical transient is the brightest star in the field. Further observations are strongly encouraged to establish the nature of this very bright optical transient.”

For better or worse, Dunsby got exactly what he asked for. Further investigation revealed this bright object to be the planet Mars. This prompted the Astronomer’s Telegram to issue a correction: “The object reported in ATel 11448 has been identified as Mars,” it read. It also sent a snarky tweet: “For Discovery of Mars. Congratulations, Prof. Peter Dunsby!”

Dunsby took the jab in stride. “Lesson for today. Check, Check, Triple Check and then Check some more,” he tweeted.

Now, if only we could figure out a way to get to this strange new planet that Dunsby discovered…