IMAG­ING FOR SCI­ENCE: MARS

Learn how your images of the Red Planet can be­come valu­able pieces of sci­en­tific re­search.

Sky at Night Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

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