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Photograph The Planets

Once the total lunar eclipse has passed on Friday, there’s another celestial event a few hours behind it. On the same night, Mars is in opposition and, with the right kit, you can see the ‘Red Planet’ like never before.

Earth and Mars follow different orbits around the sun, but every now and again they align on their own orbits, creating the perfect opportunity for an awesome view. An opposition of a planet occurs when the sun, Earth and the planet (in this case Mars) are in alignment, with Earth in the middle. As the sun is on the opposite side of our planet in relation to Mars, it means it shines a bright light on the ‘Red Planet’ during our night-time.

The Details

Friday 27 July is the date when Mars will be at its brightest (and in full opposition), but the event itself can be viewed from now until early September.

To get the best view, you need a clear sight of the horizon. Mars won’t reach a particularly high altitude in the sky (around 14°) so it’s important that buildings or terrain features aren’t obstructing your horizon. You’ll get the best viewing angle after 11pm.

Given its reddish hue and relative brightness, you should be able to pinpoint Mars by eye, but if you need a little help, you can download the Celestron SkyPortal app for Android and iOS. The app locates your position using your phone’s GPS and provides precise timings for viewing Mars.

Think Kit

Although Mars can be seen with the naked eye, it will appear as a point of light, and you won’t be able to see any real detail. To identify terrain features such as the ice caps and weather phenomena like dust storms, you’ll need the help of a telescope.

The larger the aperture of your telescope, the greater the amount of light it can gather, and the more detail you’re able to see. For Mars, a telescope with a 100mm+ aperture will start to unlock surface features for you. For even more impressive shots, a computerised telescope can lock onto the planet and automatically follow it as it moves across the sky. Consider the Celestron Astro Fi 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain computerised telescope, or the Jessops exclusive Celestron PS1000 Newtonian Reflector telescope, with its large 127mm aperture. If that’s not good enough, then the ultimate in light gathering power, is the Celestron NexStar 8SE computerised telescope – it has a whopping 203mm aperture.

If a telescope is out of your budget, you can still get a decent view of Mars using a pair of binoculars. The larger the aperture, the better your view – 60mm should be enough to help you see the red colour of the planet, although it’s not enough to pick out any surface details. There are a range of binoculars specifically designed for stargazing.

Connecting your camera

Since the telescope is doing all the work, you don’t need an amazing camera to catch the event. Thanks to the new Celestron NexYZ 3-Axis Universal Smartphone Adapter, for less than £50 you can even use your mobile phone to capture what’s happening by shooting through the telescope eyepiece. A Celestron T-Adapter also enables you to attach your DSLR to a telescope. Both give amazing shots.

One thing is for certain. You definitely don’t want to miss this one because the next time Mars will be in opposition is in October 2020.

Celestron SkyMaster binoculars are the easiest way to view the Mars opposition event, but the images aren’t good enough to locate landscape features. It’s a different story with the Celestron NexStar 8SE computerised telescope . With an aperture more than 200mm in diameter and fully computer controlled, the NexStar 8SE enables you to view much more than Mars – watch the clouds on Jupiter and view galaxies beyond our own.