Mars is coming up, and if you have a telescope, you’ll want to make the most of this opportunity in the coming months. It’s going to be a long time before you get another chance as good as this one.
And this fact is absolutely true: Marsthe only planet whose surface we can see in detail from the Landnow it is moving toward the best observing position it will provide us with until the year 2031. Keen planet watchers have already started preparing their telescopes.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’ll be worth looking out for this week, though you’ll have to wait until after midnight to get a good look.
Mars is currently halfway between the horns of the zodiacal constellation of Taurus, el Toro and during this week it will rise around 22:30 local time. Certainly, there is no doubt that once it appears over the east-northeast horizon. Currently shining as a bright pumpkin-colored light of magnitude -0.4, Mars currently ranks third after Sirius and Canopus among the 21 brightest stars. (The smaller the magnitude of an object, the brighter it appears in the sky.)
But as it continues to get closer to our Earth in the weeks and months to come, Mars will only get brighter: it will surpass Siriusthe brightest star in the sky on November 11 and will later rank as the fourth brightest object in the night sky behind the moon, Venus, and Jupiter.
Late Friday night (September 16) through early Saturday morning (September 17), Mars will move about 3.5 degrees to the right and slightly below a waning gibbous Moon as they rise above the east-northeast horizon (your clenched fist held at arm’s length is about 10 degrees wide). As you’ll see for yourself, the red planet will actually look closer to a yellow-orange tint, the same color as a dry desert under a high sun.
It’s not often that we get a good close-up view of Mars. For starters, it’s a small world only twice the size of our moon and about half the size of our Earth. And more often than not, it spends most of its time far away on the other side of its orbit. I know from my many years of experience in public outreach, that when I am outside viewing the sky through my telescope, if the moon is not in view, the object most people will ask to see is Mars.
And yet, ironically, Mars ranks as one of the most disappointing telescopic objects, which usually appear as nothing more than a small featureless orange blob. The only time we have a legitimate chance of detecting its surface markings, ice caps, clouds, and potential dust storms is about every 26 months, when Earth approaches Mars, as our orbit gets smaller and larger. fast “reaches” Mars around the sun.
We call these oppositions, because Mars appears diametrically opposite the sun in the sky; when the sun goes down, mars rises. He reaches his highest point in the sky during the middle of the night and sets just as the sun begins to rise. Mars oppositions occur a little more than two years apart, but they are not all the same. Because the orbits of Mars and Earth are slightly elliptical, some close approaches between the two planets are noticeably closer than others. The best ones come in bunches of two or three that are repeated in a cycle of 15 to 17 years on average.
We are currently in the recession of that cycle. In July 2018, Mars came unusually close to within 35.78 million miles (57.58 million km) of Earth, and another unusually close approach to 38.57 million miles (62.06 million km) occurred in October 2020. million km). This next time around, Mars will come closest to Earth on the evening of November 30 (around 9:17 pm Eastern Standard Time). The planet will then be 50.61 million miles (81.43 million km) from Earth, measured from center to center. Mars will reach opposition to the sun eight days later, on December 8.
(opens in a new tab)
When it comes closest to Earth on November 30, the apparent diameter of the disk of Mars will equal 17.2 arcseconds. To get an idea of how big it is, wait until after 8 pm this week and, if you have a telescope, watch for silver-white Jupiter, shining low in the eastern sky; it will appear nearly 50 arcseconds wide.
In contrast, the disk of Mars will appear only about a third the size of Jupiter when the Red Planet comes closest to Earth later this year. While this may seem small, keep in mind that it’s still unusually large for Mars. In fact, from November 21 to December 10, the apparent size of Mars will be greater than at any time until May 2031.
The best telescope for planetary work is a high-quality large refractor telescope or a large long-focus reflector telescope. However, with almost any good telescope, you can still make interesting and productive observations. In either case, the limiting factor is often atmospheric stability, which can change from hour to hour and drastically affects image quality.
For both casual and serious observers, Mars offers challenges and, with any luck, delights. In a high-quality 4- or 6-inch (10- or 15-centimeter) telescope on a night of excellent stable air, you may be able to glimpse the north polar cap, dark surface features, clouds, and dust events. Using an eyepiece with a power of 105 will make the disk of Mars the same angular size as the moon to the naked eye.
A brand may appear only fleetingly the first time you catch a glimpse of it. But over the next few nights, as you become familiar with its appearance, you’ll be able to recognize it right away and perhaps see details that were invisible to you at first. Only remember:
The more you look, the more you will see.
The size is not everything
As we noted at the beginning, Mars is already shining brightly in our night sky, inviting observers to see what they can see. By November 7, you will see the planet high in the east-southeast sky at midnight. After its opposition on December 8, it will be an early evening object for the next several months as it recedes into the distance.
Almost as if to make up for its relatively small apparent size, Mars will literally rise up into the night sky. In fact, this year’s observing season finds Mars riding near the northernmost part of the ecliptic, in Taurus above. Orion. This means that it passes very high every night for observers in the mid-northern latitudes, well above the thick layers of air and poor atmospheric visibility that worried northern observers during its exceptionally close passage to Earth during the summer of 2018.
December 7: M&M Night
Finally…be sure to put a big circle on your calendar for Wednesday, December 7th. During the evening hours, the full moon will pass extremely close to Mars, obscuring it (called an occultation) in parts of North America, and no doubt evoking a question that will be repeated many times that night: “What is that? bright yellow? -orange star just below the moon?” That night, even the most casual people will turn their attention to Mars.
Happy Mars watching!
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest speaker at New York’s Hayden Planetarium (opens in a new tab). write about astronomy natural history magazine (opens in a new tab)the farmers almanac (opens in a new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacepointcom (opens in a new tab) and in Facebook (opens in a new tab)
#Mars #Red #Planet #offer #view