Red planet disappoints, Saturn is more fun
I was a bit disappointed with my images of Mars through Stuart’s bedroom window.
Mars was at opposition on 22nd May and featured in Sky at Night magazine as a planetary Pick of the Month.
This time I actually had to be upstairs in his bedroom, because downstairs, outside in the garden, I was too low to see Mars through the trees! Even as it crossed the meridian at 01:04 BST on May 24th its elevation was just over 12°.
So I set up the Maksutov 150 ‘scope and used dead reckoning for polar alignment, I couldn’t even open the double-glazed window because it opens inwards and there is no room to do that and point the ‘scope Southward.
Nevertheless I persevered, and I found that I could control the mount quite well via a program on the laptop called Cartes du Ciel. It’s an alternative to Stellarium, maybe not quite so popular or user-friendly but it seems to control telescope mounts better. I can point the scope at Mars; select Mars in the Cartes du Ciel window; and click Synch. Then the program updates the Synscan mount controller with the current coordinates via the EQMOD Ascom interface and continues to control the mount for tracking Mars.
I shot some ‘movie’ sequences via the ‘scope and my Canon EOS500D DSLR camera, then with the ZWO ASI224MC USB3.0 Colour CMOS camera. As Sky at Night Magazine says,
Its low altitude doesn’t do the planet any favours so pick your observing time carefully for the steadiest views. Clear, steady air is best, but this can be hard to achieve for such a low altitude.
The light from a low altitude planet must pass through a thicker layer of atmosphere than when it is higher up, and this ultimately causes blurring and distortion
I can certainly confirm that. I used my usual ‘stacking’ software, Autostakkert!2, to process both movies and here is the underwhelming result:
Before I gave up and went to bed (at ~02:00) I had a quick look for Saturn, which was not far away (between Mars and the full Moon). I was so pleased to spot it that I repeated the ZWO ASI224MC movie trick. This result was a bit more interesting, although Saturn is the faintest of the bright planets:
Following the opposition of Mars on 22 May, it is Saturn’s turn to stand directly opposite the Sun in the sky on 3 June. This places it high in the midnight sky for observers in the southern hemisphere, but inconveniently low down in the S as viewed from Britain.
This is a pity, for Saturn’s stunning rings are wide open with their N face tipped 26° to our view and spanning 42 arcsec around the planet’s 18 arcsec disc.
Saturn shines at mag 0.0 from a distance of 1,349m km at opposition