Mars will be well placed for observing this long weekend as it will be at opposition on Sunday, May 22 at 04:10 PDT. Opposition occurs when the Sun and Mars are on exact opposites sides of the Earth. Mars is fully illuminated by the sun during an opposition and briefly rivals Jupiter in brightness during this year’s opposition. Mars reaches opposition every 26 months so the next one is not until 2018. Mars will be relatively large during this opposition, with an apparent diameter of 18.6 arc-seconds, because it is making its closest approach to Earth in 11 years a few days later on May 30th.
Mars is the only planet that reveals much of its surface features. Even a small 100mm telescope will show features such as dark shadings and the bright polar caps. Look towards the south around midnight – Mars will be the bright star-like object in the sky. But observing from Vancouver poses some challenges: Mars will appear no higher than 20 degrees above the horizon so the views may be blurred by turbulence in the atmosphere, and the weather forecast is predicting cloudy skies for the next few nights. Nevertheless, Mars will remain well positioned for observing for a few weeks after opposition so there is time to wait and hope for nights with clear skies and steady seeing.
Image from May 13th, 2016 using a Skywatcher ED100 Pro refractor, a ZWO ASI 224 camera and Antares 3X Barlow.
NASA released a beautiful hi-res view of Mars taken by the Hubble Telescope.
Check out the the Guide to Observing Mars from SkyNews magazine.