Of course we had to observe Mars’ closest approach to Earth in 15 years! That occurred on July 31 when it was a “mere” 35.8 million miles from us. I was able to capture it right at that time from the Talavera Space Hut! Unfortunately it is not favorably positioned for Northern Hemisphere imagers as it’s maximum elevation is only 29 degrees. Seeing at this low altitude even in the best conditions is not that great. Consequently it was very difficult to obtain quality images, but loads of fun to record the event! Interestingly I compared the images I took in 2005 when it was at around 43 million miles (7 million miles further) and at that time the planet elevation was much higher. You can see how even with way more modest equipment the resolution is better!
Mars is at “opposition” now in terms of it’s orbital position relative to Earth, meaning we are between Mars and the Sun. When the Sun sets, Mars is rising and at sunrise Mars is setting.
Here is a schematic diagram of Mars in 2018 with simulated images courtesy of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers website:
Of course this isn’t exactly what I saw but the other complicating factor was a dust storm that raged on the planet for months obscuring all surface features. Considering that and the low altitude position we didn’t do too badly. Note that the South polar cap is at the top here. One thing I did see that isn’t shown here is the North polar cap! You can barely see it in the fully processed images below but note the appearance in the blue filtered image. You can really see it there!
This is probably the best resolved image taken on the night of July 31. The blue glow at the bottom is caused by atmospheric refraction and very slight misalignment of the RGB channels. Equipment used was a Celestron 14″ SCT, Skyris 132M mono camera with filters. Each channel was about 30 seconds at 100 frames per sec.
Same equipment as the image above but just not cropped. It’s the same image scale. All images were obtained at prime focus around 4400mm. When I tried going up to 2x with a barlow the planet was “boiling” everywhere! Had to stay at prime
I thought this was cool! The Northern polar cap is very clear at the bottom of this blue filtered image!
These were images I took back in 2005. The lower image was at opposition. Equipment back then was a 10″ newtonian and at that time I was able to use a 5x barlow! The seeing was that good. From Western Massachusetts of all places! Camera was a simple color webcam called a Toucam pro! But again the altitude of the planet makes a huge difference. i don’t recall the exact position but I’m going to say it was at least 50 degrees or so from what I remember.
Well that’s about it for Mars opposition 2018! Until next time. Thanks for reading!
After probably a year and half of zero activity here we’re finally beginning what is probably the last iteration of equipment at the “Talavera Space Hut”, the first observatory I built when we moved out to Southern New Mexico. Here is a link to it. It’s located right outside my house here in Las Cruces at the foot of the Organ Mountains. I started imaging here in 2014 and did get some nice results. After all we are in the High Desert and seeing is often excellent. Unfortunately the town is steadily growing along with light pollution. There are no light restrictions in the town. We are about 10 miles east so it’s not bad especially looking North and East but since the construction of Orion’s Belt Observatory up in Mayhill in 2016, I no longer needed this facility for deep space imaging work. However with my interest in spectroscopy and planetary imaging, this was the logical choice to take that over. I sold my Astrotech 12 RC to a friend up in Mayhill and bought a used C-14, perfect for high res spectroscopy and planetary imaging! I still have my old trusty Paramount ME which I was happy to see is still operating just fine! So I dusted everything off, cleaned out all the spiders and bugs and started up the equipment, beginning the preliminaries, collimation, pointing models etc and started the new journey! Just in time for the “Mars show” at the end of this month!
Thanks for reading!
Inside the space hut for the first time in over a year! No critters thankfully had taken up residence.
The “Talavera Space Hut” as it is affectionately called is a simple 8 foot square manual roll-off. It’s a wonderful place. Very intimate and hands on! Just enough space for me to maneuver around the equipment. Basically 360 degree unobstructed viewing! Here we are opening the observatory and viewing the amazing sunset at the same time!
The “final installment” equipment wise at the Space Hut consists of a C14 black tube version (not the HD) which is in excellent condition I purchased used off Amart which will be used for spectroscopy and planetary observing, a William Optics GT102 refractor used mostly for video astronomy and a Paramount ME mount I have owned since 2006. The focuser used for planets is a Moonlite CSL 2.5″ shown above. Cameras at this site include an Atik 460 EX for spectroscopy, a Skyris webcam for planets and also a ZWO174 for guiding when doing spectroscopy. The spectrometer is a Lhires 3
As seen from the northern hemisphere, the constellation’s brighter stars form an easily recognizable asterism known as ‘the Teapot’. The stars δ Sgr (Kaus Media), ε Sgr (Kaus Australis), ζ Sgr (Ascella), and φ Sgr form the body of the pot; λ Sgr (Kaus Borealis) is the point of the lid; γ2 Sgr (Alnasl) is the tip of the spout; and σ Sgr (Nunki) and τ Sgr the handle. These same stars originally formed the bow and arrow of Sagittarius. (From Wikipedia, “Sagittarius constellation”)
In today’s “morning coffee” addition up at the observatory we turn our attention back to early morning visual and binocular viewing! It’s 5:30 AM MDT. Spring has sprung and with it some of our old Milky Way friends in the South: the bright star clouds toward our galaxy’s center, the Lagoon nebula, Trifid, M22 globular cluster, M11 the Wild Duck cluster and others. However there was quite an unexpected surprise just above the constellation Sagittarius. 2 very bright objects, one red and one yellow nearly a fist width apart almost like 2 bright eyes! Yes, eyes over the teapot ,which is a known asterism for the constellation Sagittarius. The yellow object is Saturn. However the bright red object surprised me. This year, in fact by the end of this July, Mars will reach opposition and be nearly 2 times brighter than Jupiter! That hasn’t happened since 2003, when Mars was its closest to Earth in 60,000 years! Usually Mars is an inconspicuous rust colored dot lost amongst the stars. Not this year! It’s already making quite a show. Don’t miss it!
2 “eyes above the teapot” in early morning. Saturn is to the left and Mars right. Mars actually appears in the same binocular field as the Trifid nebula and the Lagoon nebula