Mars Opposition Jan 29, 2010

The Red planet is going to put on its best show since 2008. It’s getting closer and closer each day now, until on Jan 27, at a distance of 99 million km away, it’ll reach its closest encounter with us. Two days later, on the 29th, it comes into opposition.

So now is the best time to observe Mars because it will appear bigger and brighter. You don’t need to wait until end of the month though; you can actually start your observation now and the view is already excellent.

However, this apparition is not as good as its previous one, because it occurs with Mars relatively far away. It only has an angular size of 14.1” (but it’s still bigger than “normal time” Mars, which can be as small as 10” or less).

Mars Opposition is quite common, occurring every 2 years and 2 months, but not all oppositions are equal – some are great (like the one in 2003, which gave rise to the Mars Hoax), and some are not so good (as with the case for this year). This is because the orbits of Earth and Mars are not circular and they do not centre exactly on the Sun, the distance between Earth and Mars, and hence the size of Mars, can vary for each opposition.

Mars at Opposition: This illustration shows the relative positions of Earth and Mars at the last seven oppositions (1995-2007), when the Sun and Mars are on exact opposite sides of Earth. The images of Mars show the planet’s apparent relative size at each opposition, as viewed by Hubble Space Telescope. Illustration credit: Z. Levay (STScl)

Mars is in Cancer now, where it rises in the east as soon as the sunset and soars overhead around midnight. You don’t need any equipment to view it, just the naked eyes will do. Although the Full Moon is near Mars during opposition, it’ll not drown the planet at all. Shining at magnitude -1, its reddish hue outshines every star in this region, so it’s very easy to find.

If you want to observe the Martian surface features, then you’ll need a telescope. It’s best to wait until the Red Planet climbs higher in the sky before starting your observation so that you’ll view it through lesser of our turbulent atmosphere. The first feature you’ll see on Mars is usually the polar ice cap – in this case is the north polar ice cap since the planet’s north pole is now tilted towards us. If the sky is clear and steady, you’ll be able to see other prominent features on the Martian surface such as Syrtis Major, Hellas, Sabaeus Sinus etc.

And if you are in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, why not drop by Bukit Jalil Golf and Country Resort for a Mars sighting activity organised by Starfield Instruments?


~ by thChieh on January 26, 2010.

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