How You Can See A Close-Up Of The Dazzling Planet Tonight Through A ‘Virtual’ Telescope

Can you see Mars at night? Yes—right now you can see Mars from Earth by looking due east as soon as the Sun sets in the west. Mars is today at opposition so as bright as it ever gets. 

However, if you want to get an extra-special close-up then Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona is streaming a special “Virtual Mars Series” of planet-gazing events on YouTube.

During these live webcasts you’ll be able to see real-time close-ups of the red planet through a huge 14-inch “virtual telescope.” 

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How, when and where to see live close-ups of Mars streaming on YouTube

The observatory is running three sessions on YouTube . Its “Virtual Mars Series” is free and open to everyone.

Clear skies allowing, each session will begin at 8 p.m. MST (that’s 03:00 UTC on the following date) and include live views of Mars through the observatory’s 14-inch PlaneWave CDK telescope each evening: 

  • Tuesday, October 13: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST
  • Tuesday, October 20: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST
  • Tuesday, October 27: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST

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What time to see Mars tonight? 

If you want to know when to see Mars it’s easy—today’s opposition of Mars makes the red planet visible all night long. Mars makes its closest approaches to Earth during oppositions, which occur every 26 months. 

How to see Mars tonight 

In practice, it may take some finding at that time of night because it will be low on the horizon, but all you need to do is look east after sunset.

As the night wears on Mars will rise higher into the sky and drift high into the southern sky, as seen from the northern hemisphere. 

Can you see Mars without a telescope? 

Yes—all you need is your unaided eyes to see Mars without a telescope. Super-bright and noticeably red, it will be impossible to miss this week.

That’s because it’s as bright as it almost ever gets. It’s presently relatively close to Earth—the closest it’s been since 2003, in fact—and opposite the Sun from our point of view, which makes 100% of its disk illuminated.

It won’t be as big and bright until 2035, or as well positioned for anyone in the northern hemisphere until 2052. 

However, while Mars can be seen by everyone on the planet with no equipment needed, the chance to look at Mars through a telescope shouldn’t be passed up.

It’s not going to look this good for very long, though Mars will remain relatively close and ideal for viewing for several weeks.

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Lowell Observatory’s ‘Virtual Mars Series’ in more detail: 

The programs will be hosted by astronomy historian Dr. Bill Sheehan. Activities will include live virtual telescope views of Mars from Lowell Observatory’s Giovale Open Deck Observatory—and other celestial objects on request via the YouTube chat function. Afterwards, at 8:30 p.m. Sheehan will host discussions about Lowell Observatory’s connection to Mars. 

  • Tuesday, October 13, 2020: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST: At 8:30 p.m. Sheehan and Lowell historian Kevin Schindler will discuss the rich history of Mars observation on Mars Hill. They will look at Percival Lowell’s founding of his observatory in Flagstaff and his impassioned search for life on the red planet.
  • Tuesday, October 20, 2020: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST: At 8:30 p.m., Sheehan and Lowell historian Kevin Schindler will pick up where they left off last week as they dive deeper into the history of Mars observation and the research of scientists at the observatory since Lowell’s time.
  • Tuesday, October 27, 2020: 8 – 9:15 p.m. MST: At 8:30 p.m., after the stargazing session, researcher Bill Sheehan will discuss the vital research done by the late Nadine Barlow, a physics and astronomy professor at NAU who dedicated her life to studying Martian impact craters. Guest Dr. Jennifer Hanley will discuss her work with Mars. Also a bit about the future of Mars research and exploration.

Why is Lowell Observatory so special?

The opposition of Mars in 2020 is very similar to that of 1894, the event that triggered Percival Lowell to found his private observatory in order to study Mars. After a lot of observing of Mars that year, Lowell thought he could see canals on the red planet and pondered the possibility of intelligent life there.

The land Lowell Observatory now sits on has since been called “Mars Hill,” though ironically it’s now most famous for being from where Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. 

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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