Friday, April 4, 2014

A little Mars love

Between working many days and nights and generally poor skies on my days off, there have not been many opportunities for me in the past few weeks to get out and practice observing or imaging Mars in my backyard.  Last night was the rare night where skies were clear and I was at home with some time to observe.  Both seeing and transparency were slightly below average, but this photon deprived boy was not about to complain.

I opened up the roof and spent some time observing mars through my C11 between about 9:00 and 9:30 local time (0400 and 0430 UT).  The north polar cap has noticeably diminished in size over the past month as the Martian spring advances and there is a darker collar on the southern edge of the cap.  There continues to be very bright limb haze.  I had a hard time noting many dark features, likely due to Mars still hanging low in the east during my early observation.  I was able to identify Terra Cimmeria in the south, but that was about it.  While the image would no doubt be better with Mars higher in the sky, I was not about to stay up until midnight as I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed for the first time in a few nights.

Below is an image I took using my ASI120MC camera, and it represents a stack of about 200 frames out of 2500, taken through the C11 and a 1.6x barlow lens.  You can see the north polar cap as well as the thin dark collar below it.  The wider, dark area south of the polar cap is Utopia Panitia.  At the south of the planets disc, the darkest feature facing us is Terra Cimmerium.  The bright spot near the limb on the right is Olympus Mons, and you can see the haze on the limb.

For comparison, here is a simulated image from of mars at about the same time:

Currently, Mars is visual magnitude -1.40 with a true distance of 0.6286784 AU (94048948 km) from Earth.  In light time, it is 0h 05m 13.71s distant.  Hopefully as Mars come to opposition next week, I'll have more opportunities to take some images of the other side of the planet as well.

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