Mars is Coming!
2020 is shaping up to be a special year for planetary observing. Jupiter and Saturn are still putting on quite a show, having both recently reached opposition. Being located so close together in the sky makes their 2020 apparitions even more spectacular. But the real treat this year will be the return of Mars.
Mars reaches opposition approximately every 26 months. Due to the elliptical orbits of the Earth and Mars, the apparent size of Mars will vary from one apparition to the next. The last apparition of Mars (2018) was one of the best in recent times since it was a perihelic opposition, which means Mars was also near its closest point to the sun (perihelion). 2020 promises to be nearly as good, since the Earth and Mars are still relatively closely spaced. Also, Mars will be relatively high in the sky for observers in the northern hemisphere which will result in less atmospheric turbulence (better seeing).
Mars is already large enough to be interesting and will steadily improve until it reaches its maximum size at opposition on October 13. The following image from ALPO (http://www.alpo-astronomy.org/jbeish/2020_MARS.htm) gives a good representation of the relative sizes of the orange planet over time:
One of the keys to observing Mars (or any planet) is to try and observe as frequently as possible. Variations in seeing (atmospheric turbulence) and changes on the planet itself mean every night is different in its potential. Mars is well placed for observing already, so take advantage and start honing your observing and imaging skills so that you can follow the changes in the coming months.
Keep an eye on our Blog for a series of posts related to observing Mars and please Follow us on Facebook. We’ll pass along some useful information on equipment and techniques to help you prepare and make the most of this year’s planetary alignments, focusing on visual observation as well as imaging.