I am often asked, “Can you see mars with a telescope?” It sounds simple enough, but the answer can be a little tricky.
Yes, you can see Mars with a telescope! You might think it’s an easy question because Mars is one of the brightest planets in the evening sky. You can see it with the naked eye. However, that’s only sometimes true!
We make two trips around the Sun for every one Mars does. In other words, sometimes, Mars is closer to Earth than at different times.
In this article, I’ll explain what telescope you’ll need, what conditions you’ll need to see Mars and some tips for better viewing!
In this article, you get
Tips for viewing Mars through a telescope
An idea of what you’ll see when you view Mars
A good overview of what telescope you’ll need
By the end of this article, you’ll have all the info you need to see Mars from a telescope, and ultimately answer the question “Can you see Mars through a telescope?”
Let’s dive right in.
MARS FROM TELESCOPE 101
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the last of the terrestrial planets. Mars is about one-half the size of Earth and has just over one-tenth the mass.
Since Mars is farther from the Sun than we are, it’s referred to as an outer planet.
It’s not the closest planet to Earth. That honor either goes to Venus. Or does it?
Venus is technically the closest to Earth as it flies by. However, on average, Mercury is the closest to Earth for the most extended amount of time. I’ll let you decide which one is our nearest neighbor.
The Red Planet Mars is a cold desert world with a thin atmosphere. The iron oxide in Mars’ soil gives it a red color.
It has long been home to robots, including NASA’s Opportunity and Spirit rovers and the Curiosity rover, a car-sized rover to explore Mars’ Gale Crater. It’s the only planet we’ve sent any rovers to.
When we visit Mars, adjusting our rhythm to Mars’ daylight hours will be easy.
The day on Mars lasts 24 hours and 39 minutes, which is very similar to a day on Earth! However, a year on Mars lasts 687 Earth days because it takes longer for Mars to orbit around the Sun.
Craters, canyons, volcanoes, and other interesting features cover the surface of Mars.
MARS THROUGH TELESCOPE: WHAT CAN YOU SEE ON MARS’ SURFACE?
The Martian surface is barren and hostile, but there are still plenty of exciting things to see on Mars through a small telescope. With a telescope to see Mars, you can see the polar ice caps, the Valles Marineris canyons, and the Olympus Mons volcano. You can also spot rover tracks left by previous missions on the planet’s surface.
POLAR ICE CAPS
Frozen water and carbon dioxide are bright spots that cover the planet’s north and south poles. The polar ice caps are the most easily recognizable features on Mars.
The southern polar cap is much thicker than the northern one. The reason for this is due to its orbit. The south pole is usually much further away from the Sun.
THE VALLES MARINERIS
The Valles Marineris canyons are another exciting feature. They are a system of enormous canyons that stretch for over 4,000 kilometers across the Martian surface.
The Olympus Mons volcano is the largest mountain in the solar system and one of the most exciting things to see on Mars’ surface. This massive mountain stands 16 miles (24 kilometers) tall and measures 373 miles.
There are dust storms on the surface of Mars that can sometimes obscure these features, but they are still worth checking out when they are visible. The dust storms on Mars can sometimes be large enough to cover the entire planet and last for weeks.
The dark spots on the surface of Mars are called “seas” by some, but they are basalt plains formed by ancient lava flows. The largest of these dark spots is called the Syrtis Major Planum.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO SEE MARS?
Assuming you have a telescope powerful enough to see Mars (more on that coming up), the next question is when to look.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, as the distance between Earth and Mars varies constantly. However, here are some tips for getting a good view of Mars.
- Mars is usually brightest during its closest approach to Earth. These close approaches occur every two years.
- Mars is generally visible for a few months, when the planet is brightest.
- Since Mars orbits the Sun more slowly than Earth, its seasons last longer than ours. As a result, the best time to see Mars is during late spring or early summer.
- Even at its brightest, Mars may still look like a faint star or bright light in your telescope.
WHAT DOES MARS LOOK LIKE THROUGH A TELESCOPE?
Here’s a good view of Mars through a home telescope. This should be a definitive answer to your question, “Can I see Mars with a telescope?”
TELESCOPES 101: HOW TO SEE MARS WITH A TELESCOPE
Telescopes are powerful tools that allow you to see distant objects in the night sky. But how do they work?
At its most basic, a telescope is simply a lens that gathers light. The earliest telescopes were nothing more than this; while they could magnify objects, they could not provide much detail.
In 1668, Isaac Newton built the first reflecting telescope
Reflecting telescopes use mirrors to gather and focus light. The large primary mirror at the base of the telescope collects light from the observed object and reflects it up to a smaller secondary mirror near the top. This secondary mirror then reflects the light down into the eyepiece, where it can be magnified and studied.
Today, there are two main types of telescopes: refracting and reflecting. Refracting telescopes (like Newton’s original design) use lenses to gather and focus light, while reflecting telescopes (like the one described above) use mirrors.
Each type has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your needs.
If you’re brand new to the telescope, read my articles What is a Newtonian Telescope?, Refractor Telescope vs Reflector, and Dobsonian Telescope vs Newtonian.
And if you’ve never looked through a telescope before, read my article Why is my telescope upside down?
MAIN PARTS OF A TELESCOPE
The large objective lens or mirror at the front of the telescope gathers light and brings it to a focus point at the back.
The eyepiece is a small lens located at the back of the telescope, which magnifies the image created by the objective lens or mirror.
Finally, the mount is the base of the telescope that supports it. For more information about mounts, read my articles Types of Telescope Mounts and Equatorial Telescope Mount vs AltAzimuth.
HOW POWERFUL OF A TELESCOPE DO YOU NEED TO SEE MARS?
Assuming clear skies with good atmospheric conditions and you are away from significant light pollution, you’ll have no problem finding a telescope that can see mars.
There are many different types of telescopes available, so choosing one best suited to your needs is essential.
A small telescope will allow you to see Mars as a red dot so that you won’t see much detail.
A larger telescope will let you see much more detail, such as the planet’s polar caps and some of its surface features.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
The aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s primary mirror or lens. Larger apertures gather more light. The larger the aperture, the more detail you will see.
For example, a telescope with an aperture of 10 inches (250 mm) would allow you to see Mars’ surface features in much greater detail than a telescope with an aperture of 4 inches (100 mm).
The focal length of your telescope is the distance from the primary mirror or lens to the focal point. A longer focal length results in a higher magnification, while a shorter one results in a lower one.
For example, a telescope with a focal length of 1000 mm would allow you to see Mars’ surface features much more clearly than a telescope with a focal length of 500 mm.
To learn more about magnification, read my article on how Barlow lenses work.
Focal Length / Aperture = Focal Ratio. Read my article on choosing the best focal ratio.
The eyepiece is the part of the telescope that you look through. It is essential to use high-quality eyepieces to get the most out of your telescope. A higher-quality eyepiece will result in a sharper image.
You can use a blue or violet filter to see some of Mars’ bright cloud features. An orange filter will allow you to see more details in the dark spots.
To see Mars’ surface features in any detail, you will need a powerful telescope with a large aperture, a long focal length, high-quality eyepieces, and some filters.
WHAT IS THE BEST TELESCOPE CONFIGURATION TO USE?
You may be less impressed if you’re interested in seeing Mars with a smaller telescope. Small scopes will show you more than the unaided eye.
I recommend an 8-inch telescope minimum for the best views.
Here are some things to consider.
- Mars is often far from Earth, so you’ll need a telescope with a long focal length.
- Mars is a small planet, so you’ll need a telescope with high magnification.
- Mars has very little atmosphere, so you’ll need a large telescope with good light-gathering ability.
Magnification = Telescope Focal Length ÷ Eyepiece Focal Length
Here are some of the best telescope configurations for observing Mars.
- A 10-inch telescope with a focal length of 1500 mm is ideal for spotting the planet’s significant features.
- A 15-inch telescope with a focal length of 2000 mm is powerful enough to see the planet’s surface details.
- And, of course, if you can afford a focal length of 3000 mm, you can see even the most minor details on the Martian surface.
Remember, to see Mars’ surface features in any detail; you will need a powerful telescope with a large aperture, a long focal length, high-quality eyepieces, and some filters.
WHERE IS MARS LOCATED IN THE NIGHT SKY?
Ever wonder, “How to find Mars with a telescope?”
If you’re looking for Mars in the night sky, the best time to start searching is around late July through early August. Look for a bright red star close to the horizon in the southern sky. That’s Mars!
Using a planetarium app, you can also find Mars on your smartphone or tablet. The app uses your location and the date to show you where you can see Mars in a telescope.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU SEE WITH A TELESCOPE?
In addition to Mars, you can see several other celestial objects. For more info on planets, you can read my article Can You See Planets With A Telescope? And for some fun read my article DIY Solar Filter Telescope.
The Moon is the closest celestial object to Earth and, as such, is the most accessible object to observe with a telescope. Even a small home telescope will reveal craters and mountains on the lunar surface.
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system. A telescope will allow you to see its four largest moons and the great red spot. For more info on Jupiter, read my article How To Find Jupiter With a Telescope.
Saturn is perhaps best known for its beautiful rings. Using a small telescope, you can easily see it, along with Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. To learn more, read my article Can You See Saturn With A Telescope?
NEPTUNE AND URANUS
These two planets are much fainter than Jupiter or Saturn and, therefore, more difficult to observe. However, you can still see them with a decent telescope under good conditions. To learn more, read my articles Can You See Neptune With a Telescope? and Can You See Uranus With a Telescope?
In conclusion, the answer to the question, “Can you see Mars with a telescope?” is yes.
This article provided several examples to address “How does Mars look through a telescope?”
A telescope is an instrument that magnifies objects in the sky, making them appear closer than they are.
Telescopes make it possible to see things that would otherwise be too faint to see with the naked eye, such as planets.
You can see features such as the planet’s red surface and polar ice caps when looking at Mars through a telescope.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
IS MARS A ROCK OR GAS?
Mars is a rock with volcanoes. Impacts and winds have altered its character.
WHICH IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PLANET TO SEE?
Unlike Mars, Mercury is challenging to observe from Earth because it is always too close to the Sun. Mercury is the least explored as the innermost planet in our Solar System.
WHAT IS THE FARTHEST PLANET YOU CAN SEE WITH A TELESCOPE?
From a distance of 2.7 billion miles, Pluto looks like a dim speck of light in even the most powerful telescopes.