Best view of the planet Mars this year as it reaches opposition

The ‘Red Planet’ is one that captures the imagination. We’ve studied it with satellites; even landed robots on its surface to explore it in greater detail than ever before over the last few decades. But, standing on our planet, planet Earth, and looking skywards towards Mars with nothing but the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope provides a moment of sheer, mind-blowing awesomeness!

On 3rd March 2012, Mars will be in ‘opposition’ giving planet-watchers a superb opportunity to see the fourth planet from the Sun. ‘Opposition’ is the term used to describe the time that a planet is directly opposite the Sun from our point of view here on Earth.

This also means that the full visible face of Mars is illuminated by the Sun’s rays from our persepctive and, given a clear sky on 3rd March 2012, we’ll be treated to the best view of it for another 26 months or so. Check out this amazingly cool pic of Mars taken by the Hubble telescope at the turn of the century (click to embiggen)!

The best Earth-based view of Mars ever showing its' polar caps

An image of Mars during opposition taken with the world’s best telescope, Hubble, in 2001. NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA

If you’re out looking to spot Mars, it’s easily identifiable by its pinkish-orange hue. Unlike the stars, planets don’t twinkle (or ‘scintilate’ if you want to get all technical). Try to get away from having your view blocked by tall buildings or other obstructions. To help you locate it, click on the image below to embiggen it… Mars rises in the East just before 18:00 UT; reaches its highest point in the sky to the South around Midnight; and then sets in the West just before 07:00 UT.

Mars reaches opposition on 3rd March 2012 - here it is around midnight

Looking south from the UK at Midnight on 3rd March 2012 to get a great view of Mars.

You can see that Mars is just under the constellation of Leo (which is featured in another of my blog posts: Look to the sky this march for stars, planetary conjunctions and more!). Even with a small telescope you’ll see terrific detail in the form of the polar caps and perhaps even the contrast between the bright and darker patches of the planet’s surface.

I’d love to hear if you get to spot Mars or have pics to share…

Happy sky-watching!

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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  1. Pingback: Derek Shirlaw » Look to the sky this March for stars, planetary conjunctions and more!

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