Mars Opposition: Visual Amplification and Imaging Tips

Mars. Copyright Rodrigo Carvajal (@shadalf on Instagram). 11” f/5 Newton with Tele Vue 3x Barlow for an effective focal length of  4200mm. Captured with QHY5III 178C color camera. Images were taken 18-days apart where Mars grew from 13.8-arc-sec diameter to 16-arc-sec. (Resized and re-oriented from original to simulate the change in apparent diameter.)

Mars is growing daily in size and brightness as it approaches opposition night on  13 October 2020.  On that date, the “Red Planet” will shine at magnitude -2.6 and be 22.4″ in diameter. At 5.5° above the Celestial Equator, it will be well placed for northern observers. Enjoy it while you can as it will not reach 22″ again until the year 2033!  See our prior post on the Mars Opposition to learn why this will be the Last “Best” Mars Opposition for Northern Hemisphere!
 

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Last “Best” Mars Opposition for Northern Hemisphere!

Left: Russell Croman’s Mars (© 2003) image with 14″ f/10 RCOS Ritchey-Chrétien Cassegrain and Tele Vue 4x Powermate using Philips ToUCam Pro webcam as imager. Effective focal length was 14,224mm! Stack of about 800 frames (best of 2,400 taken) at 1/25″. Image taken 25 July 2003 and featured in Sky & Telescope magazine.
Right: Ericli28 Mars (© 2016) image with C11 and Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate using QHY5L-II-M camera. Taken June 2, 2016. This was an AstroBin Image of the day for 19 March 2017.
Images are copyright by their respective owners.

The Mars 2020 opposition will be the “best” this decade for mid- and high-northern hemisphere observers.

Let’s start out by stating that the Mars 2020 opposition will be the “best” one this decade for mid- and high-northern hemisphere observers. (Better even than all the ones in the 2010’s!) On opposition night, 13 October 2020, the “Red Planet” will be brilliant in the sky at magnitude -2.6 and 22.4″ in diameter at a Declination of 5.5° above the Celestial Equator. It will reach 44° in elevation above the horizon in the city of London, UK.

Mars is an “outer planet”: its orbit is outside that of Earth’s orbit. Opposition: Earth and outer planet line up on the same side with Sun (bottom of diagram). Conjunction: Earth and outer planet line up on opposite sides of the sun (top of diagram). Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

(Due to the non-circular orbits of Earth and Mars, the instant of opposition is not usually the same as the closest approach between the pair: there can be a two-weeks difference in time. So, we’ll talk in round numbers when discussing the size of Mars around the time of opposition.)

With regard to this year’s event: yes, there have been “bigger” oppositions. In 2018 Mars was 24” in diameter (ranking with the super-duper, 2003 opposition that had Mars at 25″). However, while Mars was bigger in 2018, it was at -25.4° Declination and barely cleared your neighbor’s fence in the northern hemisphere. This year it’ll be +30.9 degrees higher in the sky! 

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