Brilliant burnt-orange Mars is looking impressive in the early evening sky. A few weeks ago Earth caught up with the planet at the end of a two year race. On April 8th Mars was almost perfectly aligned with the Sun and Earth for the first time since 2012.
This photo was taken in late March and shows Mars in the constellation Virgo, near its brightest star Spica. The contrast between the blue-white of Spica and the orange of Mars is stark when you actually see it! A couple of the bigger asteroids - Ceres (actually a dwarf planet) and Vesta are in the same part of the sky this year too.
It's been a busy couple of months at home and work. But the astronomy doesn't stop for anything and we've had some wonderfully clear nights.
Opposition also means that Mars is as close as it can get to Earth at this particular point in its orbit around the Sun - this year, the minimum distance was about 93 million km (58 million miles). Oppositions happen every two years or so, but because of Mars’ slightly eccentric orbit some oppositions are better than others.
I've had some spectacular views of Mars with the 8 inch telescope this, despite the fact that Mars is just 15 arc seconds in diameter (about the size of £1 coin seen from a distance of 300 metres). At high magnification I've seen various surface features, including the continent sized shield volcano Syrtis Major, the vast impact basin of Hellas and the dwindling north polar cap. All of these features are captured in the following image obtained with the 8 inch telescope.
Mars will fade quickly during the next few weeks as Earth puts a bit more distance between our planets. If the weather improves I hope to get some pictures of Saturn and its moons during May.
Dr Adrian Jannetta
Guitar strummin' explorer of the universe. Mild mannered maths teacher by day and astronomer by night.