How to Observe Mars

Provided you're patient and dedicated, it's possible to observe Mars in the night sky. It's not easy, so be prepared!

Steps

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    Be patient. The viewing conditions for Mars are only favorable for 4 months once every 2 years. This occurs during a time of close encounters known as "oppositions".
    • Look at astronomy sites online to know which dates the planet can be observed.
    • Use a sky chart to pinpoint its location in your region.
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    Find a telescope. Binoculars will only reveal a tiny disc; a decent telescope is essential for observing Mars. It is possible to see with the naked eye but all you'll spot will be what looks like a bright orange-red star.
    • A reflecting telescope of 200mm aperture or a refracting telescope with a 100mm lens are the minimum requirements. A larger telescope will let you see the planet rotating.
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    Keep looking. It can take a while to decipher what you're looking at. Earth's heat haze will most likely cause Mars to shimmer but if you keep observing for breaks in the shimmering, you'll get a few seconds here and there during which you can see the surface.
    • Look for a polar ice cap (whitish).
    • Look for markings on the surface.
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    Try observing over a period of weeks during opposition. Watch for a few hours at a time and you'll get to see Mars rotate.
    • See if you can find the dust storms. Viewing over a period of weeks using a high quality telescope can reveal these storms.
    • If you're new to observing the planets, ask for the help of an amateur astronomer; this will make it a lot easier.

Tips

  • If you receive an email telling you that you can see Mars as large as the full moon and be seen easily, it's a hoax that does the rounds every year
  • Try to look for Mars' main features, such as the Valles Marines (a huge valley the length of the U.S.), and Olympus Mons (tallest mountain in the solar system(you may need a bigger telescope to find it)).
  • Mars is smaller and colder than Earth.
  • Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. It's possible that they're simply asteroids trapped in orbit around Mars.
  • NASA information on Mars can be found at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main/index.html and Squyres, Steven W. "Mars." World Book Online Reference Center. 2004. World Book, Inc. (http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/Article?id=ar346000.)

Things You'll Need

  • Telescope
  • Sky chart

Article Info

Categories: Astronomy