Mars Closest to Earth: NOW!

Mars 2020 Oct 4 R(G)B by flickr user Roger Hutchinson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Mars imaged from London just before midnight on 4th October 2020. The volcano Elysium Mons can be seen as the bright circle at the 2 o’clock position. Celestron Edge HD11, Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI174MM camera.

We’ve reached the peak of the current Mars observing season with the planet closest to Earth:62-million km or 38.5-million miles on October 6/7th. At -2.5 magnitude and 22.6″ in diameter, Mars is a  conspicuous, intense orange target in the sky that is brighter than any star, except our Sun and is only outshone by Venus and the Moon in the nighttime sky. When it reaches opposition next week, on October 13th, it will still be 22.4″ in diameter and a tad brighter at -2.6 magnitude.  It will remain greater than 20″ in diameter for the whole month. So, weather permitting, put an eyepiece in the scope this month and show it to all your friends!

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Mars Opposition Season Images!

We mean it when we say this upcoming 2020 Mars Opposition will be the “best” one this decade and beyond for mid- and high-northern hemisphere observers. The next time Mars will be this  “large” in the eyepiece is 2033. But at a Declination of -27.8°, it will only rise  11° over the horizon for observers in London. Click image for full-size view.

The public will likely learn from the media that the Mars Opposition is a “one-night” event, on October 13th,  when the planet rises at sunset and is brighter and larger in appearance than usual. However, amateur astronomers know that the 2020 Mars Opposition is more like a “season,” where the planet grows in size each night over months, stays near peak size for a while, and then slowly fades away over the weeks. This gives us an observation window much longer than a single night!  

Mars on 2020 September 04 by flickr user José Luis Pereira. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Taken with 275mm, f/5.3 Newtonian on GEM mount with Tele Vue 5x Powermate and ZWO ASI290MC color camera from Brazil.

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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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Tele Vue-76: Imaging the Skies over Washington!

Andrew Thomas has been posting beautiful wide-field sky images on his Flickr feed. He’s imaging with one of our smaller scopes, the highly portable and capable Tele Vue-76 APO refractor! Here’s an image made by Andrew with this scope during the Great American Eclipse in August 2017.

2017-08-21 Solar Eclipse HDR by flickr user Andrew Thomas. All rights reserved. Used by permission.  Andrew writes:
“In this photo, the detailed structure of the solar corona and reflected Earthshine illuminating the surface of the Moon is revealed in this HDR composite of images taken at different exposure lengths. Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, is visible to the far left …”.
Imaged with Tele Vue-76mm APO refractor with Nikon D7100 DSLR camera riding on an iOptron iEQ45 Pro mount. Capture software was Eclipse Orchestrator v3.7. 4 sets of exposures at 1/1600, 1/400, 1/100, 1/25, 1/6, 1/3, and 6/10 sec @ ISO 200, stacked to reduce noise and enhance detail. Location: Madras, Oregon.

Andrew gave us permission to re-post these photos on our blog.

I’m glad you enjoy the images I’ve been able to capture with the Tele Vue-76. It’s a wonderful scope for both visual use and imaging. I don’t think I’ll ever give it up

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Uranus Opposition 2019

Uranus at Opposition
Uranus and moons. Celestron Edge 11 with 2.5x Tele Vue Powermate and ZWO ASI224MC color camera. Image credit and copyright by Anis Abdul.
Anis Abdul’s composite image of Uranus and moons is from the October 2017 opposition and was posted to his Facebook page. The imaging gear used was a Celestron Edge 11 telescope, riding on on AP900 mount, that was “amplified” with our Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate to achieve 7,000 mm focal length. Imaging was done with a ZWO ASI224MC color camera . The best 50% of frames from 20-minutes of video were processed for the image. Software used was Pixinsight and Registax.
 
“One of the closer moon (Miranda) is actually visible in my stacks but is lost in the planet glow ,” says Anis. 

The “ice  giant” planet Uranus was in opposition on October 28th. That means that the Sun, Earth, and Uranus all lined up together at an instant in time on that date. Uranus is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth, so the planet was closest to Earth and brightest for the year and in the sky all night long. If you missed it: don’t worry. The slow-moving planet will remain at least 3.7″ of arc in diameter and at magnitude 5.7 for the next month. 

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Jupiter Opposition June 2019!

Solar System (Jupiter) by flickr user Eugene Beygin. All rights reserved. Here Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is facing Earth with the four Galilean satellites (labeled) on either side of the giant planet. Taken through Celestron C6-N Newtonian (6″, f/5) with Tele Vue 3x Barlow through QHY5III224 color CMOS planetary camera and tracked by Celestron AVX mount.
On June 10th, Jupiter was closest to the Earth and rose at sunset — placing it in the sky all night long. The timing makes it well placed for observation throughout much of the summer. Currently, the planet is at its best for the year, at magnitude -2.6 with an angular diameter of 46-arc-seconds. It will “fade” slightly to a still very bright magnitude -2.1  and shrink to 36-arcseconds by the start of fall, where it will be in the west at sunset, setting just a few hours later. So, now is prime-time to view and image this gas giant planet, its famous Great Red Spot (GRS), and attendant giant moons.

This Week: Neptune Opposition 2018 and Comet 21P!

Neptune image by Voyager 2 probe. NASA/JPL

With the moon a waning crescent, it is a good time to pick out some faint objects in the sky.

On Friday, September 7th, Neptune rises opposite the sun and is closest to earth. Being in the sky all-night, and at it’s brightest, presents a good opportunity to sight this rarely-seen telescopic planet. Unlike the naked eye planets, you’ll have to crank-up the power to make sure you’ve really found it. Even at 100x it just looks like a magnitude 7.8 star. So don’t expect to see a Voyager 2 quality image through your eyepiece.

Click on image to enlarge. Neptune (dots showing position from Sept. 5 to 12) is just south of a line between Phi- and Lambda-Aquarii. In early September it will be moving slowly toward the Lambda star. Using your finder, or a wide-field eyepiece, setup your field on the stars labeled by magnitude inside the 5° circle. Over the course of the week, Neptune will be approaching a line drawn between the mag. 7.5 and 7.4 stars shown. Neptune will be slightly dimmer than both at mag. 7.8.  83-Aquarii it is the brightest of the stars labeled by magnitude — shining at  mag. 5.5 — and will help you orient the chart.

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July 27th: MARS Opposition and Lunar Eclipse

Mars at 7820mm (2018Jun04) on fuzzy.photos, ©Frederick Steiling.  Tele Vue 2x Powermate™ on C14 with ZWO ASI174MM camera using IRRGB filters. Image from June 4, 2018 before dust storm overtook the whole planet.

Mars will exceed 24-arc-sec in diameter between July 23rd and August 9th, 2018. This is 97 percent of the maximum of 25.13-arc-sec diameter attained during the last of the ‘favorable’ apparitions, which occurred in 2003.Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers

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BIG Mars Opposition this Month!

Earth and Mars orbit diagram representing how the opposition distance (blue lines) between the planets (Earth = green and Mars = red) can vary depending on where in their orbits the opposition takes place.

At the end of this month, on July 27th, Mars will be in opposition and reach its greatest angular diameter — 24.3-arc-seconds — for the year. This is the best opposition since 2003. It’ll be greater than 21-arc-seconds tonight and well worth observing. For an explanation as to why some oppositions are better, what to expect from this year’s event, and accessories to better view and image Mars, see our blog post: Mars Opposition 2018 Preview.
 

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