The Night Sky: Mars

By Rick Bria

In April 2014 the planet Mars is at opposition. On Monday, April 14 Mars is closest to Earth. Opposition means Mars is opposite the Sun in our sky and is well placed for viewing. Mars looks like a bright orange ‘star’ in the southeast after dark. It is located in the constellation Virgo above the bright blue-white star Spica. A sky map of Virgo is attached to aid in locating Mars.

Image

Contributed image: Rick Bria

The close pairing of Mars and the star Spica allows us to better see their color differences. If they were in different parts of the sky their contrasting colors might go unnoticed.

Mars, like all planets shine by reflecting sunlight. Mars looks orange due to iron oxide in the Martian soil and from dust in its thin atmosphere. Spica is a very hot blue giant star. Spica is many times brighter, hotter and more massive than our Sun. Although Mars is much brighter than Spica in our sky it is only because Mars is MUCH closer. Mars is 5 light minutes away while Spica is 260 light years away.

I took the attached picture of Mars on the morning of April 6, 2014 from the Mary Aloysia Hardey observatory at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Sky conditions were poor and very windy. The resulting small image of Mars was less than hoped for, but I will try again on a better night. A map of Mars is included at left in the picture to assist in identifying/confirming features on its surface.

Visit a local observatory soon and see Mars at its best! The Bowman Observatory is open every second and fourth Tuesday night of the month.** The Stamford observatory is open every Friday night. Both observatories are open weather permitting.

Starry Nights!

  • Telescope – 16” LX200
  • Camera – Canon 60Da
  • 1/100 – 100iso – CWB – Movie Crop Mode
  • Trans 7-10           Stab 4-10             32degrees f 

**The fourth Tuesday of the month falls on April 22nd.  The Bowman Observatory will be open with it gets dark, free, to the public weather permitting. Clear skies are ideal.

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