IMAGING FOR SCIENCE: MARS
Learn how your images of the Red Planet can become valuable pieces of scientific research.
Mars is an enigmatic planet. As a rocky body with a thin atmosphere, it presents subtly changing surface features, weather and seasonal variations through amateur telescopes. The seasonal variations include changes to the shape of the polar caps and dust storms, which can sometimes expand to obscure virtually the entire planet, as happened earlier this year.
Oppositions occur every 2.1 years and it’s only in the months surrounding opposition that Mars shows significant disc size. Large apertures with long natural focal lengths can extend the observing period but the position of Mars in the sky is important too. Oppositions close to perihelion tend to occur in a low part of the ecliptic. As far as the UK is concerned, this is problematic because of Mars’s low altitude. A factor in the planet’s favour is its reddish colour. Longer (red) wavelengths tend to be more resilient to seeing issues and this can help give a decent view of Mars, even when it’s at low altitude.
A full-colour Mars and the filtered images from which it was built. Each filter reveals a different aspect of the planet