How To 

How to Find Mars in the Sky


The Red Planet. Fourth planet from the Sun. Also named after Ares, the Greek god of war.


It’s everyone’s favorite planet (after Earth of course) thanks to the years of exploration, stunning discoveries, and enthralling photos. You don’t have to limit your viewing to the computer screen, though. Mars lies just outside your door, possibly in your field of view. Here’s how to spot Mars in your night sky.


1. Pick the right time of year.
Like the other planets, you won’t always be able to see Mars. At certain times of the year, Mars is too close to the Sun to be visible. To find out when you can see Mars, do a quick search and see where the planet currently is on its orbit.


2. Look for a bright, reddish glow.
That’s right, the red planet really does look red, even from our distance! You can typically distinguish planets from stars by brightness. Planets will be larger and shine more brilliantly than most stars, and Mars will have a red tinge that helps you tell it apart from other planets.

3. If all else fails, turn to a stargazing app.
If you’re looking around at the right time of the year and can’t see Mars, try a stargazing app. Most incorporate augmented reality and will present you with an accurate picture of the night sky in your area. You can either search for Mars within an app, or point your phone at various portions of the sky and see if the planet jumps out at you. Although it’s just a ball of light in the sky, it’s still a whole other world, which is an amazing sight to see!
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Mars is a fun planet to observe using telescopes. Last July (2018), Mars opposition took place with the planet showing a 24.3" angular size. Telescope views at 200x or more put on a fine show but the global dust storm hit too making the planet look yellowish or pumpkin colored - noted by many telescope observers and a NASA rover, solar powered died on the planet. My best log of Mars viewing took place on the evening of 07-Dec-18 when Mars moved past Neptune along the ecliptic for a very close conjunction in Aquarius (Mars ended retrograding 28-Aug-19 in Sagittarius). In my opinion, a great sight to see folks. I posted some notes on Sky & Telescope website report for this event. Some notes from my stargazing log - "Bob King et al – way cool tonight folks and very good charts! I was out with clear skies and cold temps from 1715-1800 EST near Mars transit time. I used my 90-mm refractor and ran the power to 200x. Neptune bluish disk resolved and Mars distinct yellow-orange gibbous shape obvious. I could just get the two in same FoV. At 72x I was able to enjoy Mars gibbous shape, Neptune blue dot near 8:00 position and 81 Aquarii star and some others in the same FoV, mirror reverse view. Neptune blue dot and Mars color very cool. This would make a good astrophoto. Understanding the distance to Mars, Neptune and 81 Aquarii star is fun to know when viewing." Mars mv +0.08, distance from earth 1.064 au, 86.19% illuminated, 8.8 arcsecond size. Neptune 99.97% illuminated, 29.9586 au from earth, 2.3 arcsecond size, mv +7.89. 81 Aquarii stellar parallax is 7.2372 mas so about 450 LY distance from earth, however Starry Night Orion SE shows about 421 LY distance."

Okay, viewing astronomical events like this makes me realize how large the solar system is and how small Rod is sitting there observing :)
If folks are interested, here is an image of what I observed for the Mars-Neptune close conjunction last year. It is a starry night image reconstruction (I know uses starry night too). The red rings are Telrad view, inner circle 0.5 degree diameter, 2nd circle, 2 degrees across, and out circle 4 degrees in diameter. The green line is the ecliptic. I use my Telrad very much :)Mars and Neptune close conjuction Dec-18