Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Opposition to Mars

Mars opposition this year was March 3rd. That's when Mars, the Earth and the Sun are lined up. It's when Mars is closest to the Earth for another year and a couple months. It's not a magic date where, if you miss Mars on that day, you missed it. It's just that Mars gets closer to the Earth up to that date, then farther. It happened to be cloudy on the 3rd for me. But on March 5th, i happened to have a 60 mm (2.4 inch) diameter refracting telescope out, and though there were some hazy clouds, and got to see the orange blob at 78x magnification.

It wasn't very impressive. However, i have ready access to a 254 mm (ten inch) diameter reflecting telescope. Since this is four and a quarter times the diameter, i should be able to see details four and a quarter times smaller. But also, it collects over thirteen times more light. That means the image should be brighter, and can stand more magnification before becoming grainy. Good enough to see some surface features at a glance, such as a polar ice cap. About once every five minutes, the atmosphere is still for a split second, and lots of surface details become clear. So the views are great for the patient.

The 2003 Mars opposition was the closest Mars would be to the Earth in something like 70,000 years. That's because it took place in late August. That's the time of year when the ellipse that is the Mars orbit is closest to the Sun. Six Earth months from late August is late February. So this very early March opposition can be described as nearly the farthest Mars opposition for quite some time.

It will be worth a look. Through my astronomy clubs, i have access to larger telescopes. And so do you. One club offers a public Open House every month, and another operates an observatory that seems to be open essentially every clear night. It's highly likely that you live near such a club.

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