The small planet of Mars is fourth in line in the solar system. The thing that gets many planet observers excited is that Mars is the only one in the solar system that allows us a peek at its surface detail.
Mars’ telescope view is a great way to study various conspicuous Martian features. While these features may be more subtle than seen in photographs, they are still a sight to see.
At present, the dusty red planet is being explored by rovers roaming its surface. Though the planet holds our complete fascination because of its dynamic seasons and surface features like extinct volcanoes, canyons, polar ice caps, etc., it is a tough place to support life.
While we cannot travel to it at the moment, we can certainly observe the red enigma in the sky. This article will discuss how to see Mars through a telescope in detail.
How To See Mars Through A Telescope? [Easy Beginner’s Guide]
While your naked eyes can view the red planet across the sky, it is best viewed with the help of a telescope.
Aiming a telescope at the planet when it is at its peak position from Earth is a delightful experience. You will be able to see more details compared to the rest of the year.
While small telescopes can be used to see Mars, bigger telescopes of the highest quality help enhance planetary observation experiences. They offer more details of the planets that are not so easily discernible with smaller telescopes.
When Can You Observe Mars Through a Telescope?
In order to observe Mars in its full glory and hue, it is important to pick the best time for it.
The distance of the red planet from our planet varies vastly. You will find it varies from 34 to 24 million miles. Therefore, selecting a favorable viewing time is important for the best views.
A good time to catch a glimpse of the planet is when it is opposite the Sun with Earth in the middle. This is called opposition, and it occurs every two years. During opposition, the planet can be seen from sunset to sunrise. You will get the best field of view when it reaches the highest point in the sky at night.
In October 2020, Mars was the closest it has been to Earth in over eight years with a magnitude of -2.6. This means 2022 is the year for the upcoming opposition event. The planet will be closer than it was in 2020 during the month of December.
When Is the Planet Brightest in the Sky?
Mars achieves peak magnitude once every two years. At the beginning of 2022, the planet is at its dimmest. The brightness continues to improve steadily during the first eight months, shifting from 1.5 to 0.1 from January to August.
After August, the rate of brightening increases dramatically. The red planet is at its brightest in mid-December with a peak magnitude of -1.7. The opposition event will occur on the seventh. Around this time, Mars will have a magnitude of -1.9.
The planet’s brightness increases gradually throughout the year as it moves towards us. In January, it was the furthest away from Earth and it will closest to us in early December around the opposition event.
In 2022, Mars will be at a distance of 51 million miles from Earth. This is not as close as it was in 2020. In 2020, the planet was within 39 million miles of Earth.
Locate Mars With Your Phone
Do not despair if you are a novice at identifying constellations in the sky. The modern age of technology makes locating any celestial object in the sky very easy, without requiring specialized equipment.
There are plenty of stargazing apps available for Android phones and iPhones nowadays. These apps will help you locate stars, planets, satellites, or comets in just a few simple steps.
You will simply need to point your phone at the sky and move it so that the app can update you in real-time and help you identify what it is seeing.
In case you are not able to find the planet, make use of the search function and get pointed in the right direction.
Locate Mars Without a Telescope
In the entire solar system, there are five planets that are visible to our naked eyes—they do not need a telescope to be seen. Mars is one such planet.
During certain times of the year, you can spot more than one of these planets in the sky simultaneously.
Under favorable conditions, Mars appears in the sky as a bright object imbued with red. The red planet can be seen without a telescope for most of the year. However, there are brief periods of time when the planet cannot be seen because of its proximity to the Sun.
While you can spot Mars without optical instruments, you will not be able to discern specific details of the planet as is possible with a telescope.
To the naked and unaided eye, planets generally shine like stars in the sky. However, Mars makes a prominent appearance when it is closest to Earth and shines like a star with a tint of red. This results in striking visual images as it draws closer to the Moon.
If you opt for binoculars instead of a telescope for a glimpse of Mars, your view will still remain limited. You will not be able to discern any extra details.
Which Is the Best Telescope to Observe Mars?
To properly observe the red planet, you will need the right telescope. Although the planet will be bright, it will only reach 16.5 arcseconds wide in December. This width is equivalent to a large crater on the Moon.
Most home telescopes have an eyepiece of 2 to 3.9 inches. Even with high magnification, it is only possible to discern the planet’s shape. You will not be able to observe any other details.
A high-power eyepiece is necessary for proper viewing of Mars. Telescopes with eyepieces of 4 to 5 inches diameter are ideal. High magnification ranging from 100x to 250x will allow you to observe finer details of the planet’s surface.
Do not underestimate the power of a 4-inch scope. Even 4-inch refractor telescopes are effective instruments for observing minute planetary details.
Experience and patience are important traits to have when it comes to planetary observation. Mars is a rewarding target to view when done right. However, its unpredictability can hinder your viewing experience. Any changes in its atmosphere will affect what details are visible to you.
If your purse strings are tight, you can use binoculars for your stargazing activities. They too can deliver satisfying results. However, refractor telescopes are truly a delight to view planets with.
Choosing and Using a Telescope
Peering through a telescope takes some practice and skill. The first thing you must do is set up your tripod and level it. Keep the tripod at a sensible level. Make sure it is sturdy before your secure your telescope.
Adjust the focus of the telescope for your eyes. You will have to allow your eyes time to get adjusted to the dark to be able to see through the telescope’s eyepiece.
It helps to have both eyes open. However, if it is a distraction, you can cover one eye that is not on the eyepiece. Make sure your eye on the eyepiece is relaxed. If you keep one eye tightly shut, it will affect your viewing eye.
When it comes down to choosing a telescope, if you do not have any prior experience, head over to a local observatory to get an idea.
There are certain safety guidelines you must follow when you use a telescope.
- You must never use your telescope to look at the sun directly. A proper solar filter is required to look at the sun.
- If there are children around, be mindful of the telescope. Do not leave the instrument unsupervised.
- Let your eyes adjust to the night-time dark conditions. Give yourself 10 minutes before you use the telescope.
- Weathers with turbulent winds are not suitable for telescopes and your viewing experience. If there are strong winds, do not use your telescope.
- A telescope must never be used to project images of the Sun anywhere. Your telescope and accessories will get damaged due to the build-up of internal heat.
See Mars Through a Telescope
Get your telescope ready to go. Align the finderscope and aim it in the direction of the red planet.
Even though Mars shines bright, do not hesitate to make use of the larger magnifications to look at the finer surface details. Keep in mind you will not be able to see the Martian surface minutely as the disc will be too small until the last five or four months of 2022.
Having a telescope filter will help you observe finer details of the Martian surface. It will improve the surface contrast and unveil more features.
A telescope filter will keep useful colors and get rid of unwanted light. When only select colors reach your eyes, you will be better able to interpret the differences in your view. It will help you discern the various features on the planet’s surface.
- Orange: This colored filter will boost darker surface areas.
- Light Red: It will highlight planes, dust storms, and polar ice caps on the planet. It will darken the planet, except for the desert regions. If you are shopping for a single filter, this is the one you should get.
- Light Green: It makes viewing ice caps and dust storms easier. It improves the overall contrast.
- Light Blue: A blue-colored filter will highlight polar ice caps and darkens the red disc.
Polar Ice Caps
Polar ice caps are able to grow on Mars during winters even though the planet has an almost negligible atmosphere. These polar ice caps are visible with a small telescope. They are more apparent when Mars is in close proximity to our planet.
The polar ice caps in the south are more obvious during an opposition event. Exercise some patience when viewing the red planet during this phase and you will be rewarded for it. You will be able to see the distinct ice caps against the red hues.
The size will vary according to seasonal variations on the planet.
Smaller telescopes are not able to showcase finer features of the Martian surface. However, large features are more obvious and easily viewable.
Similar to the Moon, Mars has darker areas that are both distinct and large enough to be visible through a small telescope. Syrtis Major and Mare Acidalium are two such areas.
Mare Acidalium is located in the northern region of the planet. It extends southwards. On the other side, we have Syrtis Major. This triangle-like area extends northwards.
Dust storms on Mars are unpredictable by nature. Since they are usually massive, they are easily visible through a telescope when the planet is near Earth. Once every five years, on average, the entire planet gets shrouded in dust and sand.
How Does Mars Look Through a Telescope?
Even with an amateur telescope, you will be able to view nuances of the red planet’s surface details and rocky soil.
Some large characteristic formations are only visible as dark expanses while other regions are clearly visible. For example, you may be able to see Syrtis Major as a dark expanse, while the impact basin Hellas Planitia will be clearly discernible.
There is also the possibility you will get to see polar ice caps.
Though the red planet comes around once every two years, it is only in the most favorable position once every 15 or 17 years. To increase your odds of a good planetary observation session, try to plan the session during morning or evening twilight.
From the point of view of an image scale, increasing the telescope magnification is appropriate for Mars. It will help the less experimented eyes see things a bit bigger and better.
Views of Mars Through Various Telescopes
View from a Two-Inch Telescope
This small apertured telescope is usually used by people who are just beginning their stargazing journey. While it is a good starting telescope, it will not give you a clear image of Mars. The best you will be able to see is a reddish hue around a bright disc.
View from a Four-Inch Telescope
A telescope with a four-inch aperture is able to collect more light than a two-inch aperture. It improves the quality of planetary observation. To enhance this quality further, consider using a magnifying eyepiece that scales up the image around 120x to 200x.
View from an Eight-Inch Telescope
A telescope with this aperture is an improved choice for planetary observation. Under ideal conditions, it may even handle up to 300x magnification. This will greatly enhance the surface details of the planet.
Using an orange filter with the eyepiece will help highlight the darker features against the planet’s orange background.
View from a Ten-Inch Telescope
This telescope is a definite upgrade. You will be able to see much more features, such as the northern polar cap. If your planetary observation session is in alignment with the opposition event, consider using a 2x Barlow lens to enhance your visual experience further.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Does Mars’ Opposition Event Take Place?
The red planet’s oppositions happen approximately every 26 months. The event can happen along any point of the planet’s orbit. In 2022, Mars’ opposition will take place in December. The event will mark the planet at its closest and brightest for the year.
Are Mars’ Moons Visible with a Telescope?
While Mars is clearly visible with a telescope, the planet’s two moons are not. Deimos and Phobos are extremely small. Even large stargazing telescopes are not able to discern much of the two moons. They are visible as mere pricks of light.
Why Does Mars Look Red?
The reason behind the planet’s red hues is its regolith. The surface material has a lot of iron oxide. This compound is the same one that lends rust and bloods their hue. Weathering or oxidation likely contributed to the rusting of this surface material. The rusted surface lends the planet its red hue.
Are you ready for your first Mars viewing session?
Mars is a red enigma that is a sought-after sight among stargazers and astronomers. While the planet is able to give us brief glimpses of itself throughout the year, it only comes into its full form every two years. 2022 is the year for its full show!
Locate the planet in the sky and point your telescope in its direction four months prior to the opposition event. Since the opposition event is in December, you can begin your planetary observation journey from September onwards.
You will be able to witness the growth of the planet as it approaches us. The surface features will be more distinctive than ever. How many features will you be able to identify?