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How to See Mars With a Telescope: Complete Guide and Tips

As one of the brightest objects in the night sky, Mars is a popular target for amateur astronomers. The red planet can be seen with the naked eye, but it is much more impressive when viewed through a telescope.

Mars is an interesting target for amateur astronomers because of the strong possibility that life once existed on the planet. It is believed that it once had a denser atmosphere and warmer surface temperatures – conditions conducive to life.

If you want to see Mars for yourself, you’ll need a few things. First, a telescope. A small refractor telescope for beginners will be the best option. Second, also need a detailed star chart to help you find the planet in the night sky. And third, you need to read this article to learn how to see mars through a telescope.

Tips for Observing Mars With a Telescope

First and most importantly, it is very important to find a dark place where you can see the sky clearly. You should not be disturbed by city lights, trees, and other obstacles. Don’t be in a hurry to set up just anywhere.

Second, I would recommend getting a telescope with a computerized auto-pointing system. Especially if you are a beginner. 

What is a Mars?

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is often called the “Red Planet” because of its color. It is a planet with a thin atmosphere whose surface resembles both the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.

Mars is home to Olympus Mons, the largest volcano and the second tallest mountain in the solar system, as well as Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyons. The smooth Borealis Basin in the northern hemisphere occupies 40% of the planet and maybe a giant impact crater. As you can see, this “Red Planet” is worth exploring in more detail with a telescope.

When Is Mars Visible and Brightest?

Mars is visible from Earth for most of the year, but it is best seen when it is on opposite sides of the Earth. This alignment occurs every 26 months, which is the best time to observe the Red Planet through a telescope.

Mars looks brighter in the night sky when it is closer to Earth. During this event, the planet shines brighter in the night sky for about two weeks. Mars is about four times brighter at its brightest than during its dim period when it is only visible as a faint red dot in the night sky.

Mars and Earth

If you want to see this planet with the naked eye, you need to find a dark place away from city lights. With binoculars or a small telescope, you can also see Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos.

Telescopes, Eyepieces, and Filters for Observing Mars

There are a few important factors to consider when choosing the right telescopes, eyepieces, and filters for observing Mars. The most important factor is the telescope’s aperture, which is the diameter of the telescope’s main mirror or lens. A larger aperture means that more light can be gathered, which results in a brighter and sharper image.

Another important factor is the focal length, which is the distance from the lens or mirror to the point where the image is focused. A longer focal length results in higher magnification, but a shorter focal length is necessary for a wider field of view.

The eyepiece is another important consideration. A good quality eyepiece will provide a sharp image, while a cheap option will produce a fuzzy image. There are two types of eyepieces: with a long focal length, which provides a high magnification, and with a short focal length, which provides a wider field of view.

Finally, filters can be used to enhance the contrast and details in the image of Mars. Different filters allow different wavelengths of light to pass through, and each wavelength of light reveals different features on the surface of Mars.

What size telescope to see mars

The best telescope for observing Mars is going to be at least 6″ in aperture and have a decent tracking mount. A Dobsonian-style telescope on an alt-az mount can work, but you will likely need to do some manual nudging to keep Mars in the field of view.

The best telescope to see Mars would be a German equatorial mount, as it can be easily polar aligned and have great tracking accuracy. A telescope with an electronic focuser is also going to be helpful.

What kind of telescope do I need to see mars?

As for the actual telescope, there are many different types and brands out there. A refractor telescope is going to give you the best image quality, but they are also usually the most expensive. A reflector telescope is going to be cheaper, but the image quality is not going to be as good. A catadioptric telescope, like a Schmidt-Cassegrain, is going to be a good middle ground between the two.

Eyepieces

For eyepieces, you will want to get a few different focal lengths. A good range to start with would be 10mm, 17mm, 25mm, and maybe 32mm. These will give you a good range of magnifications to work with.

If you want to get even more power, you can get a Barlow lens. This is a lens that goes between the eyepiece and the telescope that will increase the magnification.

Filters

There are a few different filters that can be used when observing Mars. The most common ones are red and blue. They will help to bring out the features on the Martian surface. There are also polarizing filters that can be used. They will help to reduce the glare from the Martian atmosphere.

How to Find Mars With a Telescope

These tips will help you enjoy the telescope view of Mars:

  1. Choose the right day to look for the Red Planet. Use special apps or websites to make sure you are in a period when it is clearly visible. If you observe it when it is away from Earth, you won’t be able to get a good look at its topography.
  2. Check the alignment of your telescope. It is very important to make sure that your telescope is properly aligned. If not, it will be difficult to find anything in the night sky, let alone the Red Planet.
  3. Find Mars in the night sky. Once you’ve made sure your telescope is properly aligned, you can start scanning the night sky, looking for Mars. If you’ve chosen the right period to observe, you’ll find it easily.
  4. Use the finder. Once you’ve found Mars in the night sky, you can use a telescope viewer to point your telescope in the right direction. A finder is a small telescope that is attached to the side of the main telescope.
  5. Focus on the telescope. Once you have pointed it in the right direction, you need to focus on it. You can do this by adjusting the knobs on the side.
  6. Enjoy the view! Once Mars is in your field of view, you can sit back and enjoy the view. You may have to adjust the focus periodically, but otherwise, you should see the planet quite clearly.

What Can You See on Mars With a Small Telescope?

When Mars is close to Earth, even with a small telescope, you can see some features of the planet. The southern polar ice cap, which is pointed toward you at the moment of opposition, is best seen. Its white color stands out against the rusty background. It can be seen even with a 3-4-inch telescope.

Other surface features depend on the ability to distinguish between light and dark portions of the surface. Depending on which side of the planet is facing us when you look, try to see Syrtis Major or Mare Acidalium.

Finally, you can see dust storms in a small telescope, but this is more of a disadvantage because they obscure the best features of the surface.

FAQ

Can I see Mars through a telescope?

You can see Mars with almost any telescope, but there are a few things to keep in mind for the best experience. A minimum of a 4-inch refractor or 6-inch reflector and high power (175× or more) is recommended. Choose nights with stable visibility and when the Red Planet is closest to Earth.

Why can’t I see Mars with my telescope?

Mars is often too bright in the night sky because of its close proximity to the Sun. This can be a problem when observing the Red Planet, as the brightness can blur some of the details on its surface.

What magnification of telescope Do I need to see Mars?

The best telescope magnification to see Mars is 35x per inch aperture when using a telescope as small as 7″ and about 25x-30x per inch aperture for larger models.

What does Mars look like under a telescope?

Under a telescope, Mars looks like a small, red, round object with two small moons, Phobos and Deimos. The planet is bright enough to cast shadows, and under ideal viewing conditions, it exhibits a subtle level of surface detail. Thanks to this, you can consider that its surface is covered in craters.

What telescope would be used to see the surface temperature of mars?

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the best telescope for observing the surface temperature of Mars. JWST is sensitive to infrared light, which is emitted by Mars as heat. This allows JWST to see the surface of Mars in great detail, making it an ideal tool for studying the planet’s climate.

Bottom Line

Mars is a very mysterious planet that has been the subject of debate for decades. Therefore, it is definitely worthy of your attention. The best time to observe Mars is during the opposition when the planet is closest to Earth. Even with a small telescope, you can see some surface features, including the southern polar ice cap and dust storms.

With a larger telescope, you can see more details, including Syrtis Major and Mare Acidalium. If you have had experience observing Mars or are considering doing so, share in the comments which telescopes you have chosen.

References:

  • HOW TO VIEW THE OPPOSITION OF MARS | THE RED PLANET AT ITS BIGGEST AND BRIGHTEST (Lowell Observatory): https://lowell.edu/how-to-view-the-opposition-of-mars-the-red-planet-at-its-biggest-and-brightest/
  • Geography of Mars (Christine M. Rodrigue, Ph.D.): https://home.csulb.edu/~rodrigue/geog441541/lectures/midterm/telescopes.html
  • Mars Is Mighty in First Webb Observations of Red Planet (James Webb Space Telescope): https://blogs.nasa.gov/webb/2022/09/19/mars-is-mighty-in-first-webb-observations-of-red-planet/

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About Valery Johnson

Hi, I am Valery and I love nature, the universe and the starry sky. Together with my friend Michael we share our practical knowledge in the field of astronomy and nature observation. We also test different optical instruments to see the strengths and weaknesses of different models. Very often we travel around our country, so we have the opportunity to test optics in different conditions and different seasons. Welcome to Michael's and my blog and we hope you find useful and practical information for yourself.

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