Tonight, I was finally able to snag a decent shot of Mars. This is extra special for me because a) I've been after one for well over a year, but the planet was either on the opposite side of the sun, or hanging around at terrible hours in retrograde(my previous attempts at photographing Mars have been fantastically lackluster), and b) this marks the first time I've ever photographed some surface detail of another planet. Sure, I've photographed some cloud detail before, but actual surface features? That's a new one for me (and no, I don't count the moon, silly). Unless I get a super-mega backyard scope, Mars may be the only surface detail I'll ever be able to photograph in our solar system, but it's still a nice milestone.
Right now, Mars is reasonably close to the Earth, and just a couple of days ago it was at "opposition", a term that essentially means that, from our perspective, the planet is on the exact opposite side of the sun. Previous times when Mars has been at opposition it was much closer, but we're still afforded a reasonably nice view. Mars is currently shining at -0.81 apparent magnitude, which makes it one of the very brightest objects in the night sky right now (after the moon, it is just slightly dimmer than Sirius, the brightest night-sky star). As an added bonus it happens to be at a particularly neat position: Sitting smack-dab in the constellation Cancer, bright-orange Mars shines nicely with other bright shining colourful objects, such as deep orange Betelgeuse, bright-blue Rigel, and crystal-white Sirius. Procyon, Castor and Pollux are in the region too, and if you wait a few more hours, another orange-star, Arcturus will show up. The winter sky is putting on a particularly nice show, and will be for the next few weeks. The great thing about the bright winter sky stars is that even in a light-polluted city, you can still see the colours of the stars.
But there's something else which occurred to me as I was loading up these pictures onto my computer: Because the Earth sits between Mars and the Sun, our world would only visible to Mars viewers in the twilight hours. Like Venus is for us, Earth is Mars' morning and evening "star". There's something about that that makes me smile.
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