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January 27, 2010

Mars Does a Drive-By

hubble_mars-660x660.jpg

Best Display of Mars From Earth in 6 Years on Wednesday
On Jan. 27, Mars will be closer to Earth than any other time between 2008 and 2014. A mere 60 million miles away, the red planet will be a great target for backyard telescopes, and will appear bright to the naked eye as well. From the ground, Mars will look like an orange star almost as bright as Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. The view will actually be best on Friday, Jan. 29, when Mars will rise alongside the first full moon of the year, directly opposite the sun.

Posted by Vanderleun at January 27, 2010 9:10 AM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

The last time Mars did a close encounter, I broke down and purchased my first digital camera and the gear needed to hang it on my 8'' Celestron SCT. The results were gratifying. That's my composite shot on the left (multiple frames registered and integrated using special software) and the online Mars simulator set to roughly the same day/time on the right. Pretty good detail for a backyard scope in the middle of light-polluted CT on a muggy August night. If nothing else, it was nice to get a snapshot of something that happens only once every 60,000 years.

Posted by: goy at January 27, 2010 1:15 PM

Very nice photos, goy.

When Mars had its really close opposition in late August 2003 (much closer than the current one), I took out my telescope and spent a few nights looking at it. I didn't have any kind of photography setup, but made crude sketches of the major features I could see. A couple days after closest approach, I saw the Hubble photo reproduced at the top of this article, which has become quite famous. It so happened that this photo was taken at almost exactly the same time I was observing, so Mars had the same face turned towards Earth that I saw. I compared my sketch to the Hubble photo and was flabbergasted to see how closely they agreed. I got the dark areas pretty much right, I clearly saw the blue haze near one edge, and also the polar icecap. What's more, I noted that I suspected, but didn't clearly see, a "finger" of ice protruding from the edge of the icecap. Well, there it is in the photo!

If you look at the photo and squint your eyes so it looks fuzzy and blurry, then you can approximate the visual appearance through a telescope.

Posted by: rickl at January 28, 2010 6:42 PM

Just an aside: It's really amazing that today, well-equipped amateur astronomers using off-the-shelf telescopes, digital cameras, and computer software, can take sharper and more detailed photos of the planets from their backyards than professional astronomers using film cameras with the largest telescopes in the world could in the 1960s.

Posted by: rickl at January 28, 2010 7:24 PM

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