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Mars from Earth, 2012-2027 (Animation)

Mars Orbit & Oppositions Diagram

The Martian Year and Seasons

Other Planets Seen Through the Telescope:





Mars through a small telescope (click for full animation, 61 KB)Mars Through The Telescope (click for full-size animation, 61 KB)

Mars is the only Solar System planet whose surface features can be readily observed through Earthbound telescopes. However, because it is only half the size of the Earth, it always appears disappointingly small through most telescopes.

The surface markings on Mars mostly appear blue-grey against the general salmon-pink coloration of the planet. Mars' rotation causes its surface features to move Westwards across the disk at a rate of 14.6 per hour (for more details, see the animation below).

The Martian surface changes subtly not only on a daily basis, but also with the planet's seasons, which each last approximately six months. Prominent features visible in small telescopes include one of its polar caps and the triangular region called Syrtis Major. With patience, many other features can be seen, depending upon the telescope aperture and the observer's atmospheric seeing conditions.

This map section (18 KB) shows the region of the planet which is visible in the telescope image. The vertical red line through the centre marks the longitude of the Central Meridian at the time of the observation (in this case about 300, touching the Western edge of Syrtis Major). The planet's current Central Meridian longitude can be found by downloading Leandro Rios' Mars Previewer II utility at Sky & Telescope's website. The BAA Mars Section has a selection of maps showing Mars' surface features and their longitudes.

The images of the planet seen here were filmed by pointing a video camera through the eyepiece of an 8-inch reflecting telescope during the planet's close approach to the Earth in late August 2003. The image is inverted (South up) matching the orientation of most astronomical telescopes. The rippling effect simulates how the Earth's turbulent atmosphere affects the steadiness and quality of the telescopic image.

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Animation showing a complete Mars rotation (click for full animation, 783 KB)

Features Visible on the Martian Surface (click for full-size animation, 783 KB)

This animation shows a complete rotation of Mars at intervals of 10 in longitude (corresponding to about 41 minutes of the planet's rotation). The Central Meridian is marked as a faint red line (passing through the centre of the planet from pole to pole). South is up and East is to the right, reflecting the appearance of the planet through a typical astronomical telescope.

Selected features are listed alongside the disk, positioned vertically according to their Martian latitude. The approximate centre co-ordinates of each feature (longitude and latitude) are shown in brackets. Hence when the Central Meridian Longitude (CML) is 150, the Mare Sirenum is positioned on the Central Meridian; its approximate centre co-ordinates are 155 and 30 South. The names of the features are colour-coded to roughly match those of the disk shown in the animation.

The Martian disk images are taken from Leandro Rios' Mars Previewer II' utility, available as a ZIP file from the Sky & Telescope website at the link shown above. The surface features listed are based on Martian maps produced by Damian Peach and Martin Lewis, viewable at the BAA Mars Section link above.

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Mars Through the Telescope (Desktop Site)

Seeing Conditions (Venus Through the Telescope)

Copyright  Martin J Powell  2011-13

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