The red planet has fascinated us since ancient times. In fact, it was named after the Roman god of war.
Today, we can even land on its surface and explore it from space.
And who knows how long it will be until the first human footprints set foot on our sibling planet.
Mars is the fourth-largest planet in our solar system. It’s also the closest planet to Earth.
If you want to get closer to the Red Planet, here are some tips to help.
Is It Possible To See Mars Through A Telescope?
Not only is it possible to see Mars through a telescope; on a clear night, you can see Mars with the naked eye.
What gives it away is the bright red hue that reflects the planet.
So even if you’re camped out under the stars, you’ll be able to stargaze the planet, as well as many other celestial objects found in the night sky.
However, if you want a proper view of Mars then there’s no denying that a good quality telescope is the way to go.
Telescopes can achieve two things.
The first and obvious one is that they magnify small objects so that far away things become much clearer.
The second is that they collect more light which allows you to see objects that are dim to the naked eye.
What Telescope Do I Need?
To make your viewing experience complete, most telescopes come equipped with eyepieces (or optics) to further enhance your views.
There are three kinds of eyepiece:
This type of optical element creates a prism like effect when looked through it.
These glasses allow you to correct for chromatic aberration. They usually have a magnification range between 50x and 300x.
SCT: “Single Compensating Teleconverter”
These are designed to correct for chromatic aberrations caused by different wavelengths of light hitting the observer’s retina.
SCTs normally provide 80x – 400x magnification.
Most refractors offer variable focal lengths ranging from 4 inches to 10 feet. Some even go above 20 feet!
Refractors do not have any built-in magnification.
However, because they focus light directly onto the front lens, they produce less distortion than reflectors.
Refractors are great for low power views.
They require longer exposures and are more prone to vignetting compared to reflectors.
Due to their size, refractors are typically very heavy.
Extra Features To Consider
You may also want to consider a planetary filter, as sometimes Mars can be too bright to view through a telescope.
A planetary filter will add contact to the view, allowing you to pick up more details of the planet.
There are also devices that can take a snapshot of the planet, such as smartphone adaptors and planetary cameras.
Connect this to your telescope over the eye piece and plug in your laptop to record your images.
How Big Should My Telescope Be?
This all depends on what kind of observation you plan on doing. For example, you may want to use your new telescope to observe Jupiter.
Since Jupiter is over four billion miles away, you really need to have a big scope that offers more magnification.
On the other hand, if you are interested in observing celestial bodies that are closer to Earth such as Mars, you won’t need to spend as much money on this feature.
We recommend that a telescope of 8 inches or higher would be best suited for Mars, but feel free to increase the size for your further bodies.
When Can You See Mars Through A Telescope?
Alongside having the right equipment, you should also consider the best time to observe Mars as its distance from us will vary depending on the time.
The best time to view Mars is when the planet is opposite the Sun when in relation to Earth, which happens around every two years.
From here we can observe it rise into the morning sky and set towards sunset.
This is known as opposition. It will last roughly six months before Mars sets back behind the sun again.
If you’re not near an observatory who has access to professional computers with data recording capabilities, then you may struggle to notice anything.
Even though this could mean that you miss some interesting events during that period, the rewards of seeing Mars will far outweigh the effort required.
What Mars Looks Like Through A Telescope
As we’ve previously mentioned, the most notable feature of Mars is that it emits a reddish hue when looked at.
This is because of the iron minerals that are oxidizing the soil and atmosphere. We commonly refer to this as rusting.
Red Planet, Red Dirt, Rust Planet (whatever term you prefer), there’s no disputing that Mars’ stark red coloration makes it one of the first discoveries made by astronomers throughout history.
Because of its high abundance of iron oxides, Mars was previously believed to be the brightest object in the night sky besides Venus.
Mars is also home to numerous craters (including Valles Marineris), polar caps (also called ice caps) and volcanoes (Mount Olympus).
In addition to being a sight to behold, Mars is also rich in valuable resources.
Its surface contains water ice frozen within the ground and carbon dioxide gas trapped deep underground.
Also, if you have good atmospheric conditions, you’re likely to see a polar cap and some of the moons of Mars.
Though this will likely be reserved for telescopes that are over 8 inches.
Do You Need Dark Skies To See Mars?
If you live in a more urban or city environment with lots of artificial light, you might be worried about missing out on your Mars gazing.
However, the truth is that cities aren’t a hindrance when trying to spot Mars.
The reason why cities block out the stars so often is simply because they are bright sources of light themselves.
Fortunately, all you need to do is turn off any lights coming from outside your window (otherwise you’ll ruin your night vision) and you should be able to enjoy some stargazing!
And although the planets appear brighter in dark skies than in environments lit up by streetlights, you’ll still be able to see them just fine.
How To Find Mars Using Desktop Or Your Phone
Not everybody is a constellation wizard, and some need guidance to help them find Mars.
But whether you’re looking to use a smartphone app or a desktop program to point out Mars for you or not, the process is pretty simple.
If you’d rather use your phone for navigation, you can easily download apps like the Planets application or Skywatcher’s Astronomy 2020 software on Android devices.
These programs allow you to overlay your current location on top of a map of the night sky, which helps pinpoint constellations like Cassiopia and Draco.
With these apps, you’ll be able to guide yourself using your phone’s compass to point out Mars.
Use Google Maps to navigate along with pointing out Mars as well, using the magnifier tool.
Then zoom in on your screen until you see Martian features.
Seeing Mars is a special occasion and makes you consider our place in the Solar System.
It reminds us that we’re really tiny and fragile compared to the rest of the Universe.
For once, it’s easy to forget your mortal body and just marvel at the wonder and beauty of our world around us.
Sure, we may be hard to see sometimes, but Mars never fails to remind us of what’s really important.
So if you’re feeling downcast in life, pick up a telescope and gaze upon the majesty that is Mars.
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