As an outer planet, Mars is best observed around its Opposition. Mars' opposition occurs about every 26 months. Mars appears as a red/orange disk with the proper filters you might detect the polar ice cap or even atmospheric conditions, like clouds, on Mars.
Where To Look
If you were to trace the path of the Sun across the sky, the Sun’s path is a line called the Ecliptic. The Ecliptic rises and falls during the year: The highest point is the Summer Solstice and at the lowest point, 6 months later, occurs on the Winter Solstice. Once you get a feeling of where the Ecliptic lies, you might discover that the moon and all the planets, with the exception of the former planet Pluto lies within a few degrees of the Ecliptic. The Ecliptic represents the edge view of the Solar System.
Scanning the Ecliptic will help you locate the moon and planets. To pinpoint a specific planet at a specific time, you may want to: consult magazines like Sky and Telescope or Astronomy, or use software (see below), or one of the new handheld computerized realtime gadgets (see below), or consult a website like Astro Planet.[ :-) Ed.]
There are certain times in a planets orbit when a planet is “optimal for viewing.” For the outer planets: Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Pluto the point of best viewing is at the Opposition.
Due to its brightness, Mars is visible about 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset.
Because planets are bright, though tiny in size, a large telescope isn’t necessarily required for viewing planets like Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. Large aperture telescopes are very beneficial to make dim things bright, like nebulae, galaxies, star clusters and the far outer planets: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Almost any telescope capable of magnifying 100 to 200 times is great for viewing planets and our moon.
Eyepieces control magnification, field-of-view and eye relief. You can consider the eyepiece half of your optical system. Typically you will want high magnification eyepieces (100x-200x) for the moon and planets, while low power, wide field eyepieces are used for deep sky objects.
Each telescope is designed with a focal length. Eyepieces also have a focal length. This value is usually printed on the side or top of the eyepiece. If you divide the focal length of the telescope by the focal length of an eyepiece that will give you the power or magnification that eyepiece will give with that telescope.
For example: An 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope has the focal length of around 2000mm. If you use a 10mm eyepiece with that telescope you will have 200 magnification (2000/10). A 30mm eyepiece in the same telescope will produce 67 power (2000/30).
So the lower the focal length of an eyepiece, the higher the power.
Sometimes eyepieces are also specified with Apparent Field-of-View measured in degrees. If you were to divide the Apparent Field-of-View by the power you will calculate the Actual Field-of-View that that eyepiece would have with the telescope.
To compare various eyepieces click here
The Kodak company developed a numbering system to specify color filters for use with black and white film. This is known as the Wratten System. Astronomy uses the same numbering system to specify planetary filters.
Because observational astronomy lacks color in the views of astronomical object until one gets into very large aperture telescopes (greater than 10 inches), using a planetary filter is like using a color filter with black and white film. They will reduce the brightness and enhance various features seen on the planetary disk.
For more information on Planetary Filters, click here.
Suggested Filters for Mars
To use the Kwik-focus to observe a planet, simply plug two of the holes with the conveniently supplied plugs supplied with the mask and return the plate to the front of the telescope.
For more information on the Kendrick KwikFocus go here.
In the last couple of years a new class of astronomy gadgets have appeared. These handheld devices integrate GPS, Electronic compasses and motion sensors to create and integrate system that allow you to locate and identify visible objects in the sky without a telescope or other celestial aid.
These devices have three basic functions:
These devices first must sync to the GPS satellites, so they work best when there is a relative clear view of the sky. Also, these devices are sensitive to electric and magnetic fields, so their battery compartments are shielded or separated from the rest of the mechanism and they work best when you step away from large metal objects like cars and electrical fields like high power lines.
Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium
This device runs on two AA batteries that are place in metal shielded tubes before you install into the device to reduce electrical interference.
To aim the SkyScout, you look through the device that has two rings on either end of the chamber. The far ring has a ring of LED arrows to help you point your way
For more information on the Celestron SkyScout go here.
Meade mySky - Your Personal Guide for Sky Exploration
This device runs on 4 AA batteries that are located at the bottom of the handle so they do not need to be shielded.
To aim the mySky simply look down the LED gunsite of the device and follow the “real time” star map projected in the video screen.
For more information on the Meade mySky go here.
One of the easiest ways to pinpoint the location of a planet or any celestial object for any given night is to use computer software to simulate the sky. Here are a few examples: