mars observing mars

With an average magnitude of about —2.0, Mars is one of the easiest planets to see with the naked eye. It is in Earth's sky for much of the year but is best observed at opposition, when it is close to Earth, and at its largest and brightest. Opposition occurs approximately once every two years and two months. Mars's elliptical orbit brings it particularly close at some oppositions; such favorable conditions occur every 15 or 17 years.

naked-eye view

Anyone with good eyesight can see Mars with their eyes alone. It appears as a bright star, but its disk shape and red coloring easily distinguish it from the background stars. Features such as its white polar caps, dust storms, and white clouds over Olympus Mons can be seen with optical aid.

mars through BiNocuLARs

The disk shape is clearly seen through binoculars, but surface features are not yet visible.

with a small telescope

Mars's orange-red color and some surface features, including the white polar caps, emerge.

with a large telescope

Light and dark markings are now clearly in view and Mars's tilt is apparent from the visible pole.

missions to mars

Space probes were first sent to Mars in the early 1960s. Over 30 craft have now made successful missions; they have flown by it, orbited it, landed on it, and driven over it. The earliest probes gave us our first close-up views of Mars. Later craft made more detailed studies. Vikings 1 and 2 touched down in mid-1976. They imaged their landing sites, studied the atmosphere, analyzed surface samples, and looked for signs of life, although none were found.

Within the past decade, orbiters, notably Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express, have surveyed the planet, and other craft have roamed the surface. First was Mars Pathfinder's rover Sojourner, then two Mars Exploration rovers. The latest, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, starts surveying in 2006.

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