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Observing Mars for the first time last night - any advice?


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I started astronomy a couple of years ago when Mars was the "wrong" side of the sun so not really visible. Last night was the first time I took advantage of it's current position and went out to some clear, Bortle 4 skies to get a good look.

Once I'd driven somewhere darker with a nice low horizon, and got set up and collimated, I observed between 2am and 4am (with the 10" dob). Even at their darkest, the skies were obviously quite light (it being summer this was quite expected). The seeing wasn't the best, by which I mean there was quite a lot of atmospheric wobble throughout. I found I couldn't make out the Cassini gap on Saturn's Rings not the Red spot on Jupiter, although Jupiter's banding was quite pronounced and a treat to see. Venus, when it appeared (around 3:10 am), was a mess of turbulence - I could barely make out the disk.

Mars was a bit perplexing though. Setting out from the city I could clearly see a lovely red Mars nicely over the tops of the houses, but once I'd begun observing, all I could see through the scope was a bright yellowy white disk, no surface detail at all, indeed, under higher powered eyepieces the disk looked for all intents and purposes to be incomplete - i.e. in phase - but I don't remember ever reading that Mars went through phases, so surely this was down atmospheric turbulence and overmagnification - but educate me if I'm mistaken (yes, I'm certain I was viewing Mars)! I went back and forward between Mars and other targets several times over the two hours, so I don't think it was down to tube atmospherics or dew.

Anyway, in terms of seeing nothing but a bright disk, was I doing something wrong? Are the views set to improve as the year goes on? Or were the conditions just not very good and I should try again on another clear summer night?

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Mars does show some gibbous shape when at greatest elongation, currently it is at 85% and  you observation confirms that. Mars is always tricky because it is both small and bright. You need a lot of magnification to spot detail,  I would say minimum of x150-200 and the seeing rarely supports this. Should be better later in the year!

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1 hour ago, Nik271 said:

Mars does show some gibbous shape when at greatest elongation, currently it is at 85% and  you observation confirms that. Mars is always tricky because it is both small and bright. You need a lot of magnification to spot detail,  I would say minimum of x150-200 and the seeing rarely supports this. Should be better later in the year!

Also a #23A filter may tease a little more surface detail. I have used the Baader neodymium too.

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It is v small at the moment but i was out last night and found Saturn very crisp with Cassini in clear view so I wonder if you were unlucky with the jet stream? By 4am Mars was worth looking at here (London) but too small- there was definite sense of surface colour variation but it was too small to make out anything really and i couldn’t make out the polar ice cap. Prior to that time though it was very mushy and suffering atmospheric dispersion.

Mark

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I am hardly experienced at viewing Mars having only tired 3 times this year within the last month but here’s my experience. I’m in Southampton which is Bortle 7. And for planets I don’t think going somewhere darker helps much, although it could help with heat haze rising off buildings. 

When I first tried about a month ago Mars was obviously tiny, but the southern polar ice cap stood out like a sore thumb. It seemed to glow. Just like snow and ice on the top of an alpine mountain in the morning which I’ve seen myself. And I could just make out some surface markings.

On the second occasion I could make out the ice cap but it seemed smaller, certainly less pronounced. And I could just make out some surface markings.

Last night, the 3rd time, the polar ice cap was all but absent, but I could just about make out a tiny white spot. I’m guessing that the ice cap is shrinking. Also some surface markings. And compared to a month ago Mars had got bigger, well, not quite as tiny.

And out of interest. My best views were all well after sunrise. So much so that I could not even see Mars in my 9x50 finder and had to rely on push-to.

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@Giles_B
 

Mars shows quite a lot of features at closest approach, but that is 5 months away yet 😕
 

Here is how it looked close to opposition in 2020 through a 4” refractor, so you will see more in your 10” 👍🙂

E5F7E5F5-E232-4D5E-B1D3-6FD6CD875983.jpeg.0a063a0f87b02ddcb94793f5aee8dc4e.jpeg

Edited by dweller25
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Thanks for all this information - I'm glad to hear that Mars might give up some secrets to me yet.  Looks like I can add some coloured filters to the list too, and I'll try the neodymium.

@markse68 Yep - I was quite disappointed not to see Cassini, and I'm envious. I really wanted to see Cassini and almost kidded myself for a moment or two I could see Cassini... but really, had to own up that I couldn't. Maybe next time. I get a good view South from my garden, so as summer goes on and the nights start to get longer I'll get more opportunities to planet watch...

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1 hour ago, PeterStudz said:

My best views were all well after sunrise

I've found that observing planets in dawn or dusk skies does actually help, it's a naturally occurring neutral density filter.

Edited by Franklin
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In 1984, a few months after the opposition of Mars that had occurred in May (maximum apparent diameter of 18 "), I had seen Mars at evening twilight with a achromatic refractor 60/700 at 117X (eyepiece H6 supplied with the telescope) and seeing very distinctly a dark area of the planet (Mars then had an apparent diameter of 14 "). I had never seen the Red Planet with 60/700 so well as that time!

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During the last opposition in 2020 i was still using an astromaster 130 which is a mixed bag of every aberration except CA and so not suitable for planets really. Saw absolutely no detail whatsoever on a slightly yellowy-maybe a bit red disk of something very bright. Did see saturns rings and very low contrast banding on Jupiter though so it looks like Mars was just a bit too difficult for that scope.

Very excited to try and observe Mars through my current 8" newt.

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I was out this morning observing Mars, around 2-3 with my Celestron Explorer 8 inch dob.  The seeing wasn't bad for the altitude.  Used my binoviewer, x2 barlow and x2 Vixen NPL 30mm eyepieces giving x160.  The giibbous phase was immediately clear and there were a couple of albedo features which were easy to see. Current size only 7.5", 17" at opposition in December and a much better altitude, around 40 degrees.  I have always looked forward to Mars oppositions. and it never disappoints- unless there is a large dust storm at the wrong time 😂.

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On 10/07/2022 at 20:29, dweller25 said:

@Giles_B
 

Mars shows quite a lot of features at closest approach, but that is 5 months away yet 😕
 

Here is how it looked close to opposition in 2020 through a 4” refractor, so you will see more in your 10” 👍🙂

E5F7E5F5-E232-4D5E-B1D3-6FD6CD875983.jpeg.0a063a0f87b02ddcb94793f5aee8dc4e.jpeg

I wish Mars looked like that in my first scope (4 inch Celestron refrac). 

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On 10/07/2022 at 20:29, dweller25 said:

@Giles_B
 

Mars shows quite a lot of features at closest approach, but that is 5 months away yet 😕
 

Here is how it looked close to opposition in 2020 through a 4” refractor, so you will see more in your 10” 👍🙂

E5F7E5F5-E232-4D5E-B1D3-6FD6CD875983.jpeg.0a063a0f87b02ddcb94793f5aee8dc4e.jpeg

2020 was a good year for me too. Luckily the weather played ball and on several occasions I enjoyed views similar to the above. Observing with two set ups together - a Skywatcher 150P reflector and a little Skymax 102 Maksutov punching above its weight. During a couple of sessions lasting several hours, watching Mars albedo features rotate into view was a treat. Fun with relatively cheap tiddlers.

I'm looking forward to this year's opposition to try out the recently procured Skymax 127 on the red planet.

A Mars 2020 night:

747738776_IMG_20200920_2029387932.thumb.jpg.eaafacccda62cefff8f6353f2a19e264.jpg

Giles_B bide your time. Come late Autumn, weather on both Mars and Earth permitting, you should get better views.

 

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The best advice I got from here, was to observe seated. You can then sit at the eyepiece comfortably for 10-15 minutes at a time, watching for the moments of good seeing. It's a strange effect, but over time, your brain seems to adapt to what it's seeing and the brief snatches of good seeing merge together and you piece together a detailed mental image. If you aren't going to be trying to take pictures (and I found that infuriatingly complicated), I started sketching for the first time and built up this over several months:

 

Mars 2020.jpg

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@Pixies I'm starting to get used to being seated at the dob, as you say, it definitely helps extended viewing - that said I've not invested in a dedicated and adjustable chair yet, just more or less awkwardly perching or swinging on a camping chair, so perhaps I've found something else to spend money on (*sigh*)

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 13/07/2022 at 08:21, Giles_B said:

so perhaps I've found something else to spend money on (*sigh*)

The fact the 'what did the postman bring' thread runs to 463 pages should have told you that you'll be spending money for a long time yet :)

Graeme

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On 7/11/2022 at 6:07 PM, ONIKKINEN said:

During the last opposition in 2020 i was still using an astromaster 130 which is a mixed bag of every aberration except CA and so not suitable for planets really. Saw absolutely no detail whatsoever on a slightly yellowy-maybe a bit red disk of something very bright. Did see saturns rings and very low contrast banding on Jupiter though so it looks like Mars was just a bit too difficult for that scope.

Very excited to try and observe Mars through my current 8" newt.

In September-October I looked at Mars with an achromat 120/600 (Ziel Gem 60, now out of production) at 200X and 300X seeing a little bit of something (I am attaching the drawing I made on September 30, 2021, on October 6 the planet was at the minimum distance with an apparent diameter of 22 ". 4). I think you will surely see at least something with your instrument even if this year Mars is smaller (17") and your Newton must have some obstruction, being an f / 4.4; on the other hand, my short focus achromatic is not ideal for observing the Red Planet.

 

Marte 30-9-2020.jpg

Edited by Gonariu
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Hi Giles_B!

 

The quality of your scopes figure is critical to deciphering its details and your lack of seeing Cassini is worrying, its really critical to have your optics clean, collimated and good stability of the sky before doing intensive Mars study.

The Mars 2020 closest approach on Oct. 20/21 I witnessed with 2X Barlow and 6.5 Morph (270X) using my 4" F/9 and gifted with a long moment of zero blur it looked completely etched with green/grey Syrtis Major and a luminius orange eye of Hellas staring back but it was the blazing, purest of whites, ice cold icicle dagger of the south polar caps intensity, stabbing my eye repeatedly, which really impressed !!

I purchased 4mm and 3.3mm TOEs because of that image.

If you can eventually see  Cassini div. and given good steadiness and at a high culmination Mars should provide some nice views but it takes dedicated effort and a higher power than either Saturn or Jupiter does.

My chosen powers for it are the two TOEs at 225X and 272X

 

Good luck Giles !!

Edited by A Scanner_darkly
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@Zeta Reticulan I've read about using a neodymium filter - I guess this is the same thing as the contrast filter? I've also invested in some coloured filters so I'll have a play soon. I'm on holiday with my 130mm Newtonian, and have clear skies coming up - although the reduced aperture will surely mean i don't have any revelationary connection with Mars, I think I'm going to continue my journey!

@A Scanner_darkly Yes, the absent cassini gap worries me too. I'm pretty sure the scope is well collimated and, while I'm not obsessively cleaning my eyepieces, I think they are pretty clean. If it's not the scope all I'm left with is the {1) location - perhaps 20 minutes out of Bristol is still too near the city heat, and this is spoiling the seeing, or, (2) Me! Maybe I just have made less progress as a visual observer than I'd like, and maybe more hours in the seat is the remedy.

Both cases lead to the same conclusion. Get out with the scope more! Look more carefully!

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On 11/07/2022 at 06:06, Giles_B said:

Thanks for all this information - I'm glad to hear that Mars might give up some secrets to me yet.  Looks like I can add some coloured filters to the list too, and I'll try the neodymium.

@markse68 Yep - I was quite disappointed not to see Cassini, and I'm envious. I really wanted to see Cassini and almost kidded myself for a moment or two I could see Cassini... but really, had to own up that I couldn't. Maybe next time. I get a good view South from my garden, so as summer goes on and the nights start to get longer I'll get more opportunities to planet watch...

November and December is the time to observe... The baader neodymium and contrast booster filters stacked has given me amazing views with plenty of fine detail on Mars, and also on Jupiter and Saturn through my 8" SCT.... of course I'm talking about the stillest and clearest seeing, but at 400X magnification the views were awesome... Mars showed dark easily identifiable shaped patches and clear and sharp as a tack polar cap on a pinky globe....

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1 hour ago, Giles_B said:

@Zeta Reticulan I've read about using a neodymium filter - I guess this is the same thing as the contrast filter? I've also invested in some coloured filters so I'll have a play soon. I'm on holiday with my 130mm Newtonian, and have clear skies coming up - although the reduced aperture will surely mean i don't have any revelationary connection with Mars, I think I'm going to continue my journey!

@A Scanner_darkly Yes, the absent cassini gap worries me too. I'm pretty sure the scope is well collimated and, while I'm not obsessively cleaning my eyepieces, I think they are pretty clean. If it's not the scope all I'm left with is the {1) location - perhaps 20 minutes out of Bristol is still too near the city heat, and this is spoiling the seeing, or, (2) Me! Maybe I just have made less progress as a visual observer than I'd like, and maybe more hours in the seat is the remedy.

Both cases lead to the same conclusion. Get out with the scope more! Look more carefully!

Under favourable atmospheric conditions, Cassini's division should be very easy with a 10 in reflector, I've found it easy to see with both a 4in Refractor and a 6in Newtonian, under good conditions, and when the rings are reasonably wide open. It should still be fairly easy this year, but harder next year, and very difficult by 2024 as the rings gradually close.

The key is the atmospheric viewing conditions, a Neodymium filter will help a bit, also an ADC (Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector). Personally I prefer the Baader Neodymium filter to the Contrast Booster, as I don't like the yellow cast the latter imparts, not so bad on Mars and Saturn, but more noticeable on Jupiter and the Moon.

John 

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47 minutes ago, MarsG76 said:

The baader neodymium and contrast booster filters stacked

I am intrigued. Does this stacked combo perform any different than just the Contrast Booster alone? The reason I ask is that the Contrast Booster is already a Neodymium but with added violet cut.

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