Monday, May 16, 2016

Mars Over Metate Arch

A thin cloud layer near the horizon causes Saturn, Mars and Antares to glow just above Metate Arch. (One exposure with a Canon 5DM3, Tamron 15-30mm @ 15mm, f/2.8, 25 sec, ISO 6400, WB 3800ºK, 3 stationary lights filtered to 3200ºK.) ~ © Royce Bair (click to enlarge)
Mars over Metate Arch, Devil’s Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. I took this 11 days ago (on May 5, 2016) from the “back” side of the arch (compare with the “front” side image at the bottom of this post). This is such a unique and extremely dark, Bortle-1 Class area.

This cropped enlargement of the top image shows the alignment of Mars, Saturn and Antares. A thin cloud layer near the horizon causes the stars and planets to glow more than normal. ~ © Royce Bair 
Look this month for Mars and Saturn near Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. They make a noticeable triangle on the sky’s dome.

This illustration by Mikhail Chubarets shows how large Mars will be this month, with its largest and brightest on May 22 (click to enlarge).
By the time Mars reaches its crest of brightness in late May, it will have quadrupled in brilliance since the beginning of April. Currently, Mars is nearly as brilliant as Jupiter! Mars has greater swings in brilliance than any other solar system planet, except for Mercury. At is brightest, Mars shines some 80 times more brilliantly than at its faintest. This is Mars’ month, the best month in two years to watch the red planet!

Why is Mars getting so bright? For most of the past two years, Earth has been fleeing ahead of Mars in orbit. Mars orbits just one step outward from us, and we move slightly faster in orbit, and – about every two years – we catch up to Mars again and pass between it and the sun. That’ll happen next in late May, 2016. Astronomers will say that Mars is in opposition to the sun around that time.

Opposition of Mars and Saturn for 2016 in the Constellations of Libra and Scorpius from LarryKoehn on Vimeo.

Opposition occurs when a planet is in line with the earth and the Sun. This year, Mars will be at opposition on May 22nd followed by Saturn on June 3rd. Opposition of a planet also means the planet can be seen all night long from sunset to sunrise. Mars this year will come as close as 47 million miles to Earth in May.

The "Front" side of Metate Arch, or the side that most people see first, when walking through Devil's Garden. This side faces north, where the stars are stunning, but the Milky Way's Central Bulge never appears ~ © Royce Bair



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