After reading about the monumental discovery of a (probable) salt water lake beneath the southern polar cap of Mars it was great to actually get out and view the red planet late last night.
I’m still without a reliable CCD camera so after many attempts this was the best picture I got:
Visually – through the eyepiece – the planet didn’t look so good. It was easy to see the southern polar cap but the dark markings visible in the picture were more elusive, only there fleetingly.
Mars is at a perihelic opposition – it is now about as close as it can get to Earth. These oppositions always happen when Mars is far south of the equator. From Northumberland Mars is less than 10 degrees above the horizon at best and subject to much more atmospheric distortion and poor transparency than at other oppositions.
I got a much better view of Mars through the same telescope in April 2014 when it was much smaller, further away but, crucially, much higher in the sky! Back then I was observing Mars when it was just 15 arcseconds in diamater (compared to 24 arcsec now) and it was around 20 degrees higher in the sky. This is what I recorded at the time:
…the seeing was good enough for the Baader Hyperion 5mm, (406x) to make a difference! Stunning view of the planet – the best I’ve had through a telescope. Syrtis Major easily visible – about an hour after transiting the meridian I think. One limb of the planet was very bright – looking at Hellas from an oblique angle. During moments of extreme clarity the northern polar cap was visible – very small though.
Mars will get a little higher in the sky after opposition as the planet draws away from us. I’m optimistic that better views will come in the autumn. Failing that – the next opposition in October 2020 will see Mars north of the celestial equator and with a diameter of 22 arcseconds. That will be much better than the opposition this year.