Mars is back, and I have a hard time believing how much time has passed. It was in February of 2012 that I last wrote about “The Return of Big Red”. Since that time, much has changed on Earth and a hovering sky crane lowered “Curiosity” onto Mars’ surface, continuing NASA’s legacy of remarkable planetary research and exploration. I was almost caught off guard by this years Mars opposition with Earth. If not for a student telling me about his recent observations during our monthly “Air and Space Club” meeting at school, I would have probably missed the best views Mars over the next two years.
Thankfully, this was not the case and last night I went out, with my wife in tow, to view “Big Red” for the first time since June 19th, 2012. After adjusting the telescope to avoid trees obstructing our view, the 6mm Zhumell Planetary Eyepiece was put in and at 200x magnification Mars did not disappoint. Even though it is still about three weeks away from it’s closest pass to Earth, land features such as Syrtis Major and the Polar Ice Cap were visible. Attempting to use the Orange #21 color filter did not yield any further detail. As is normally the case, simply waiting for those moments of sharp views when the atmosphere settles down, brought the best moments of the night.
As Mars and Earth continue their Solar System Dance, catching up with each other every two years, be sure to head out and take a look by the middle of April before we again start to slowly move away from each other. If you happen to miss this one, fear not, because come 2016 and 2018, Mars will be even more impressive in size and detail through a telescope because of how odd it’s orbit coincides with our own.