Click here to view enlargements


Mars, the Red Planet, is usually tiny viewed from Earth, however every few years, when it is at opposition, it is worth studying for surface details. The opposition of 2001 wasn't a particularly good one. Mars was very low in the sky, as it tends to be at opposition. I did see some surface markings through my six inch telescope, but the planet was skulking between trees and houses and I kept having to pick the telescope up and move it. Drawing was impossible. There'll be other nights, I thought, then that other curse of opposition - the dust storm - struck, and I had lost my chance.

The opposition of 2003 was a superb one - Mars was close and big and no dust storms. On the night of opposition Bridgwater Astronomical Society held a public observing evening, and strangly enough Mars delivered the goods. It was stunning. It even had its best face to us. The South Polar Cap was clear and bright, there was shading in the rust red of the surface and I could even see detail in the huge valleys of Syrtis Major and Mare Tyrrherium. There was only one problem - every Somerset man, woman and child turned up to look, and I spent the whole evening showing it off to others. The only time I got a look was when I realigned the telescope between people. No drawing. All I could do was draw it afterwards from memory, completely failing to capture the detail I had seen. Every clear night for the next few weeks I hauled my telescope outside, but the seeing was terrible, the image so unsteady it was impossible to make out anything.

Mars is a bit like that - look at the number of space probes that have failed to reach it. Little green men, it has to be....

And then in 2005 I got lucky. There were still dust storms, but they were coming and going and I happened to be in the right place (in the Algarve with a 12 inch Dob) at the right time (between dust storms), and I captured the third of the images shown. And even then those Mysterons tried to thwart me. The seeing was superb for about two minutes, then deteriorated. It took a long time, but I got my image.