Mars Doubles in Brightness

Nov 22, 2007
Mars Doubles in Brightness
Image credit: NASA

During the past month, Mars has doubled in brightness and it is putting a nice show for backyard stargazers.

"Mars is starting to look really nice through my 10-inch telescope," reports amateur astronomer Friedrich Deters of LaGrange, North Carolina, who took the picture at right on Nov. 17th.

"Very nice!" agrees Dan Peterson of Racine, Wisconsin, who captured a similar snapshot the next night.

The blue polar swirl in these pictures is the "North Polar Hood"—a giant icy cloud that forms over the Martian north pole during winter. Why blue? That's the color of sunlight scattered from very tiny crystals of ice (smaller than the wavelength of light itself) floating in the cloud. The blue hood vs. Mars' red terrain appear in pleasing contrast through any mid-sized backyard telescope.

You don't need a telescope to enjoy Mars, however. It is plainly visible to the naked eye, bright and red, standing out among the pale stars of Gemini as something definitely different.

Finding the constellation and the planet within is child's play on Nov. 26th and 27th. That's when the nearly full Moon glides past Mars, only one degree away, and draws attention to the pair. If you can find the full Moon, you can find Mars. Look east before bedtime on Monday evening, Nov. 26th, or west before dawn on Tuesday morning, Nov. 27th.

Take a cup of coffee outside on Nov. 27th and spend some time sipping it while the sun rises and a hint of blue infuses the twilight sky. The sight of the silver Moon and red Mars backlit by blue sky is breathtaking. Sky maps: Nov. 26, Nov. 27.

Why has Mars gotten so bright and attractive? It's because Earth and Mars are converging. At closest approach on Dec. 18th, the two worlds will lie only 55 million miles apart. That may sound like a great distance, but it is just a hop, skip and a jump on the vast scale of the solar system. NASA is taking advantage of the close encounter to send a new mission to Mars: the Phoenix Lander. Phoenix launched in August 2007 and is due to reach Mars in May 2008, joining the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity already there.

Take a look at Mars: If it is this good now, what will it be like in December? Stay tuned!

Source: Science@NASA, by Dr. Tony Phillips

Explore further: Asteroid named for University of Utah makes public debut

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mars-bound NASA rover carries coin for camera checkup

Feb 07, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The camera at the end of the robotic arm on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has its own calibration target, a smartphone-size plaque that looks like an eye chart supplemented with color chips ...

Curiosity and the solar storm

Dec 15, 2011

On Nov. 26th, Curiosity blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 5 rocket. Riding a plume of fire through the blue Florida sky, the car-sized rover began a nine month journey to search for signs of life ...

Is the 'dead planet' full of life?

Nov 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- David Bowie asked it best in his 1971 song “Life on Mars?” But when it comes to the question of whether there’s currently life on the Red Planet, USC Dornsife professor Kenneth ...

STAR TRAK for November

Nov 03, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Jupiter will be easy to see in the east as night falls in November. The bright planet was at opposition on Oct. 29, so during November it will still be visible almost all night at its maximum ...

Recommended for you

Getting to the root of the problem in space

8 hours ago

When we go to Mars, will astronauts be able to grow enough food there to maintain a healthy diet? Will they be able to produce food in NASA's Orion spacecraft on the year-long trip to Mars? How about growing ...

The difference between CMEs and solar flares

11 hours ago

This is a question we are often asked: what is the difference between a coronal mass ejection (CME) and a solar flare? We discussed it in a recent astrophoto post, but today NASA put out a video with amazing graphics that explain ...

Scientific instruments of Rosetta's Philae lander

11 hours ago

When traveling to far off lands, one packs carefully. What you carry must be comprehensive but not so much that it is a burden. And once you arrive, you must be prepared to do something extraordinary to make ...

User comments : 0