The rock next from earth, as seen from the sun, is Mars. This month (31 July 2018) Mars will be in opposition, which means it reaches its closest distance from earth. This year it even reaches the closest distance for the last and coming 20 years. Sadly enough Mars is experiencing the perfect storm. It started on 19 June 2018 and is expected to last until September this year. These storms on Mars cause dust to cover the whole globe, making the planet a dull orange ball. The adjacent image was my first attempt, taken on 21 July 2018 with the C11 using a 2 x Barlow and ZWO ASI174 camera. Seeing was far from great (a warm summer night), resulting in this rather blurry image. Despite the poor image quality the polar regions are visible.
On 6 August 2020 around 01:37 UTC I gave Mars another try. Imaging was done with the Celestron C11 XLT EdgeHD using a TeleVue 2x PowerMate and ZWO ASI290MC colour camera. In 60 seconds 18k frames were captured, 10% of which were stacked in AutoStakkert. Post-processing done in PSP. This evening Mars had an apparent diameter of 15.32" and is still getting closer.
On 3 October 2020 we had a few hours of clear weather. Mars was a week and a half before its opposition on the 13th and had already grown to an apparent diameter of 22.54". It will be getting closer for another 3 days (grows to 22.57") before reducing again in apparent size.
Between 10:34pm and 11:15pm UTC I took five series of images using the ZWO ASI290MC in colour and the ZWO ASI174MM in monochrome with LRGB filters and a ZWO ADC. The latter camera gave much better results than the former and is shown here.
This image was taken at 11:01pm UTC using the Celestron C11 XLT EdgeHD (collimated prior to the imaging session on a nearby star) and a 2" 2x TeleVue PowerMate. Four movies of 120s each were shot for LRGB. Each movie contained some 20k frames, 10% of which were stacked using AutoStakkert3!. These four resulting stacks were then first sharpenend using an unsharp mask, then RGB combined using the L as an luminance layer, enlarged by 200% with bicubic interpolation, and finally sharpened using high pass sharpen.
The south pole (at the lower left) shows a small icecap, while the north pole is hidden below a layer of fog. At the dawn and dusk sides of Mars another two regions can be discerned where mist is present.
On 13 October 2020 Mars reached opposition, but was already getting smaller with an apparent diameter of 22.34". Using the Celestron C11 XLT EdgeHD, a 2" TeleVue 2x PowerMate, ZWO ADC, ZWO EFW mini and ZWO ASI174MM camera five series of recordings, each consisting of 120 seconds of data in LRGB, were shot, four of which made it to adjacent animation. Stacking was done in AutoStakkert3 using between 5% and 25% of the data (on average 25k frames per recording).
Olympus Mons, with a height of 22km the largest mountain in the solar system, can clearly be seen in the northern hemisphere. The animation runs from 22:33 to 23:51 UTC.
On 4 December 2020 the skies cleared again and another attempt was done around 21:15 UTC on Mars. In the meanwhile (since its opposition on 13 October) Mars and Earth had moved on, adding some 37 million kilometres to our mutual distance, making it 100 million km now. As a result Mars' apparent diameter reduced from 22.34″ in October to 13.96″ now. At the right right Aeria is visible as an orange plain with below it Sinus Sabaeus. Mare Australe (the area around the south pole) can clearly be distinguished against the surrounding Mare Erythraeum.
On 15 December 2020 I imaged Mars for the last time this season. Mars is getting increasingly smaller (this evening its apparent diameter was only 12.36") and it will take another two years (around 30 November 2022) before Mars gets anything close again.
With an apparent diameter of 17.20" it will then be larger than it currently is, but significantly smaller than it was last October (see above). It will take another 15 years (around 10 September 2035) before its apparent diameter will be large again (24.62″), but by that time it will reach an altitude of only 25 degrees.
Of the two surrounding years, 5 July 2033 (apparent diameter 22.14″, altitude only 8.5 degrees) and 11 November 2037 (apparent diameter 18.98″, altitude well over 51 degrees!) only the second occasion will be good enough for imaging.
If you have any questions and/or remarks please let me know.
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