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The Mars Apparition of 2006-08

Finding Mars from Orion, Aug 2007 to Apr 2008

Moon near Mars Dates, Aug 2007 to May 2008

Mars Rise, Transit and Set Tables, 2007-8

Mars Oppositions, 2012-27

The Martian Seasons

The Mars Apparition of 2009-10

Path of Mars from Aug 2007 to May 2008 (Copyright Martin J Powell 2006)

The path of Mars against the background stars of Taurus, Gemini and Cancer from August 2007 to May 2008, shown at 15-day intervals. During the 2006-8 apparition, Mars described a more typical looping formation, quite unlike that of its last apparition in 2004-6, when the planet described a zigzag (or 'Z-shaped') formation in Aries.

The star map applies to observers in the Northern hemisphere (i.e. North is up); for the Southern hemisphere view, click here (the Southern hemisphere chart should be used by observers situated south of the Tropic of Cancer [23 North]). The Milky Way is shown in dark grey; the faintest stars shown on the map have an apparent magnitude of about +4.4. Printer-friendly versions of this chart are available for Northern and Southern hemisphere views.

The Mars Apparition of 2006-2008

by Martin J. Powell

Following superior conjunction on October 23rd 2006 (when it passed directly behind the Sun) Mars emerged in the dawn sky in December 2006 as a relatively dim 'morning star', rising shortly before the Sun. Through the first half of 2007, the planet was best viewed from the Southern hemisphere. For Northern hemisphere observers, viewing circumstances were poor from late 2006 and throughout the first half of 2007, with Mars appearing low down in the Eastern sky at dawn. Mars became a prominently visible object from the Northern hemisphere around July 2007, by which time it was rising some three hours or so before the Sun. Viewing circumstances improved for both hemispheres as 2007 progressed.

From late 2006 through to November 2007, Mars moved steadily eastwards (i.e. direct motion) through the following constellations, slowly brightening as its distance from Earth reduced:

Dates

Constellation

Apparent Magnitude

 

Dates (cont'd)

Constellation

Apparent Magnitude

2006

Oct 23 to Nov 4

Virgo

+1.7

2007

Apr 2 to May 9

Aquarius

+1.0

 

Nov 4 to Dec 7

Libra

+1.6

 

May 9 to May 24

Pisces

+0.9

 

Dec 7 to Dec 17

Scorpius

+1.5

 

May 24 to May 29

 

Cetus

+0.9

 

Dec 17 to

Jan 11

 

Ophiuchus

+1.5

 

May 29 to Jun 26

Pisces

+0.8

2007

 

Jan 11 to Feb 25

Sagittarius

+1.4

 

Jun 26 to Jul 27

Aries

+0.6

 

Feb 25 to Apr 2

Capricornus

+1.2

 

Jul 27 to Sep 29

Taurus

+0.4

Table showing the position and apparent magnitude of Mars for the early part of the 2006-2008 apparition. The apparent magnitude listed here refers to the point when the planet is at the centre of the constellation shown (data from 'MegaStar'). Mars began the apparition descending the ecliptic (i.e. heading Southwards) from Virgo through to Sagittarius, then ascended the ecliptic (heading Northwards) from Capricornus through to Taurus. In this and the tables which follow, the rising and setting directions of the constellations listed can be found by referring to the zodiacal constellation rise-set direction table.

Mars began to brighten significantly from late August/early September of 2007 and reached opposition (i.e. its brightest for this apparition) on the night of December 24th 2007. Note that, although opposition took place on this date, Mars' closest approach to the Earth (at 0.5893 Astronomical Units or 88.15 million kms) took place a little earlier - on December 19th - because of its eccentric orbit.

In November 2005 Mars shone out from the constellation of Aries, The Ram (move your pointer over the image to reveal the constellation patterns and star names, or click here). This photo was taken three weeks after opposition, when the planet was shining at magnitude -1.9.

With an apparent magnitude of -1.6 and a maximum apparent disk diameter of 15.8 arcseconds, Mars was not as bright nor as large (when seen through a telescope) as it was at its previous opposition in November 2005, when the planet reached magnitude -2.3 and had an apparent diameter of 20.1 arcseconds. This reduction in apparent size and brightness will continue at the next two oppositions, culminating in Mars' aphelic opposition in Leo in 2012.

For much of the period displayed in the above map, Mars was brighter than all of the stars shown, with a handful of exceptions. Capella ( Aur or Alpha Aurigae, apparent magnitude +0.08) exceeded Mars in brightness prior to late September 2007 and did so again after late February 2008; Betelgeuse ( Ori or Alpha Orionis, mag. +0.5v) and Procyon ( CMi or Alpha Canis Minoris, mag. +0.38) exceeded Mars in brightness after early March 2008 and Aldebaran ( Tau or Alpha Tauri, mag. +0.85) was brighter than the planet from early April 2008.

On opposition day (which co-incided with Christmas Eve in the Christian calendar), Mars was joined by the Full Moon, which passed close by the planet during the early morning hours (see Moon near Mars dates below). For Northern hemisphere observers, the planet was then due South at local midnight (due North at local midnight in the Southern hemisphere).

For Northern hemisphere observers, the 2007 Mars opposition saw the planet appear about as high as it can get in the sky at meridian transit (due South) providing optimal viewing conditions for telescopic observers, though this was rather offset by its less-than-favourable apparent size.

Telescopic observing conditions in the Southern hemisphere were less favourable, since there the planet appeared at its lowest possible angular elevation when at meridian transit (due North).

Date

Constellation

Distance from Earth (AU)*

Distance from Sun (AU)*

Apparent Magnitude

Apparent Diameter (arcsecs)

Solar Elongation

Illuminated Phase

2007

Aug 11

Taurus

1.2688

1.4126

+0.5

7".4

76W

86%

 

Aug 26

Taurus

1.1848

1.4269

+0.3

7".9

81W

86%

 

Sep 10

Taurus

1.0963

1.4430

+0.2

8".5

87W

86%

 

Sep 25

Taurus

1.0035

1.4607

0.0

9".3

93W

86%

 

Oct 10

Gemini

0.9080

1.4794

-0.2

10".3

102W

88%

 

Oct 25

Gemini

0.8127

1.4987

-0.5

11".5

112W

89%

 

Nov 9

Gemini

0.7229

1.5183

-0.8

12".9

124W

92%

 

Nov 24

Gemini

0.6476

1.5377

-1.1

14".5

139W

95%

 

Dec 9

Gemini

0.5994

1.5567

-1.4

15".6

158W

99%

 

Dec 24

Gemini

0.5919

1.5748

-1.6

15".8

180

100%

2008

Jan 8

Taurus

0.6314

1.5918

-1.3

14".8

160E

99%

 

Jan 23

Taurus

0.7134

1.6075

-0.9

13".1

142E

96%

 

Feb 7

Taurus

0.8262

1.6216

-0.4

11".3

127E

94%

 

Feb 22

Taurus

0.9586

1.6340

0.0

9".8

114E

92%

 

Mar 8

Gemini

1.1017

1.6445

+0.3

8".5

103E

90%

 

Mar 23

Gemini

1.2493

1.6530

+0.6

7".5

94E

90%

 

Apr 7

Gemini

1.3970

1.6594

+0.9

6".7

86E

90%

 

Apr 22

Gemini

1.5413

1.6637

+1.1

6".1

78E

90%

 

May 7

Cancer

1.6799

1.6657

+1.3

5".6

72E

91%

 

May 22

Cancer

1.8107

1.6655

+1.4

5".2

65E

92%

* 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) = 149,597,870 kms (92,955,806 statute miles)

Table of selected data relating to the brighter part of the Mars apparition of 2006-8 (data from 'SkyGazer Ephemeris' and 'MegaStar'). Mars reached opposition at the most Northerly part of the ecliptic - namely, on the Taurus-Gemini border - providing good viewing conditions for Northern hemisphere observers.

Mars faded rapidly after opposition as its distance from Earth increased, but it remained visible for some 11 months in the evening sky, slowly closing in on the setting Sun. From May 22nd-23rd 2008, the planet crossed the star cluster known as Praesepe (pronounced 'pree-SEE-pee') which is visible to the naked eye as a hazy patch of light (it is also known as Messier 44 , 'The Manger' or 'The Beehive Cluster' because of its binocular resemblance to a cloud of swarming bees). The planet's furthest distance from Earth for this apparition (2.5033 AU or 374.49 million kms) was reached on October 31st 2008, when its apparent diameter was a mere 3.7 arcseconds across. By late November 2008, Mars became lost from view in the dusk twilight.

Dates

Constellation

Apparent Magnitude

2008

May 5 to Jun 10

Cancer

+1.4

 

Jun 10 to Aug 9

Leo

+1.7

 

Aug 9 to Oct 15

Virgo

+1.7

 

Oct 15 to Nov 16

Libra

+1.5

 

Nov 16 to Nov 27

Scorpius

+1.4

 

Nov 27 to Dec 5

 

Ophiuchus

+1.3

Table showing the location and apparent magnitude of Mars for the latter part of the 2006-2008 apparition (data from 'MegaStar'). As the apparition drew to a close, Mars once again headed Southwards along the ecliptic, moving from Cancer through to Ophiuchus.

Mars passed behind the Sun - at superior conjunction - on December 5th 2008. The 2009-2010 apparition began soon afterwards, which saw Mars in the constellation of Cancer when it next reached opposition on January 29th 2010 (for details, see the Mars 2009-10 page).

 [Terms in yellow italics are explained in greater detail in an associated article describing planetary movements in the night sky.]

 

 

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Finding Mars from Orion, August 2007 to April 2008

Orange-red Mars was an easy object to find in the night sky throughout the period covered by the above star map.

Northern hemisphere observers looked for the well-known (and easily identifiable) constellation of Orion. They looked above (i.e. to the North of) Orion for the zodiacal constellations of Taurus and Gemini, where the planet was located.

Southern hemisphere observers looked below Orion for Taurus and Gemini, where the planet was located. The annotated photograph here indicates which pointer stars could be used to find Mars for the period through to April 2008.

Note that in the Northern hemisphere, Orion (and all the other constellations) appear tilted to the left (measured relative to the vertical) when in the Eastern half of the sky (before transit), upright (North up, as in the photo) when it transits the meridian (i.e. crosses the due South point), and tilted to the right when in the Western half of the sky (after transit). The greatest tilt angle occurs at the point of rising and setting, the actual angle depending upon the observer's latitude; the closer the observer is situated to the Equator, the steeper the angle of rise and set will be. At the Equator itself, constellations rise and set vertically; they are tilted 90 to the left when rising and 90 to the right when setting.

In the Southern hemisphere, Orion appears inverted (South up); it is tilted to the right when in the Eastern half of the sky and tilted to the left when in the Western half of the sky.

Orion rises due East and sets due West in both hemispheres.

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Moon near Mars Dates, August 2007 to May 2008

The Moon is easy to find, and on one or two days in each month, it passes Mars in the sky. The following table lists on which dates the Moon passed near the planet between August 2007 and May 2008:

Date Range

(World)

Conjunction (Geocentric)

Moon Phase

Date & Time

Separation

2007

Aug 6/7

Aug 7, 04:15 UT

6.4

Waning Crescent

Sep 4/5

Sep 4, 14:06 UT

5.9

Waning Crescent

Oct 2/3

Oct 2, 19:47 UT

4.7

Last Quarter

Oct 30/31

Oct 30, 18:43 UT

3.2

Waning Gibbous

Nov 26/27

Nov 27, 05:37 UT

1.7

Waning Gibbous

Dec 23/24

Dec 24, 02:56 UT

0.9

Full

2008

Jan 19/20

Jan 19, 23:39 UT

1.1

Waxing Gibbous

Feb 15/16

Feb 16, 07:52 UT

1.6

Waxing Gibbous

Mar 14/15

Mar 15, 02:57 UT

1.6

Waxing Gibbous

Apr 11/12

Apr 12, 05:35 UT

1.2

First Quarter

May 10/11

May 10, 13:44 UT

0.2

Waxing Crescent

 

Moon near Mars dates for the period from August 2007 to May 2008. The Date Range shows the range of dates worldwide (allowing for Time Zone differences across East and West hemispheres). Note that the Date, Time and Separation of conjunction (i.e. when the two bodies are at the same Right Ascension) are measured from the Earth's centre (geocentric) and not from the Earth's surface (times are Universal Time [UT], equivalent to GMT). The Moon Phase shows whether the Moon was waxing (between New Moon and Full Moon), waning (between Full Moon and New Moon), at crescent phase (less than half of the lunar disk illuminated) or gibbous phase (more than half but less than fully illuminated).

The Moon moves relatively quickly against the background stars in an Eastward direction, at about its own angular width (0.5) each hour (about 12.2 per day). Because it is relatively close to the Earth, an effect called parallax causes it to appear in a slightly different position (against the background stars) when seen from any two locations on the globe at any given instant; the further apart the locations, the greater the Moon's apparent displacement against the background stars. Therefore, for any given date and time listed in the table, the Moon will have appeared closer to Mars when seen from some locations than others. For this reason, the dates shown in the table should be used only for general guidance.

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Mars Rise, Transit and Set Times for 2008

The following table lists the rising, transiting and setting times of Mars for a variety of latitudes from January to May 2008 (tables for the period from August to December 2007 can be seen here).

To find the appropriate times for any given location, the procedure is as follows:

Examples of how to determine the rise, transit and set times of Mars using this procedure are given under the table for 2007.

Rise/Transit/Set Times Table

 

The table is colour-coded to reflect the sky conditions at the displayed time in each latitude:

 

 

light blue

 

The event occurs in daylight (Sun above horizon) - the planet will not be visible

 

shades of blue

 

The event occurs in astronomical twilight (Sun less than 18 below the horizon) - the planet may or may not be visible depending upon its current apparent magnitude and the local sky brightness

 

black

 

The event occurs in darkness (Sun more than 18 below the horizon) - the planet is easily visible

 

 

Rise, transit and set times of the planet Mars from January to late-May 2008, listed in 24-hour clock format at 7 or 8 day intervals. All times shown are Local Mean Time; if your country operates Daylight Savings Time (DST) during the summer months, ADD ONE HOUR to the times shown on the appropriate dates. The times given refer specifically to the central longitude of any given time zone (i.e. the time zone meridian); hence for any location along these latitudes, the times will be accurate to within plus or minus () 30 minutes. For higher accuracy (to within about 4 minutes), refer to the page Finding the Local Standard Time (LST) from the Local Mean Time (LMT). Observers in the USA, Canada and Europe should refer to the notes (* and ) below regarding DST; observers in Southern Australia (latitude 35 South) should refer to the note () below regarding DST. All the above times were obtained from the commercial software Redshift 5 .

NOTES

Rise and Set Times

- (negative sign): time refers to the previous day

+ (plus sign): time refers to the following day

 Meridian Transit Column

DST applies in the USA and parts of Canada from Mar 9th 2008. To obtain DST, ADD ONE HOUR to the transit times, and to the rise and set times of the appropriate latitude.

 

* DST applies in the European Union (EU) countries from Mar 30th 2008 (DST is referred to as BST [British Summer Time] in the UK). DST applies in the USA and parts of Canada throughout this period. To obtain DST, ADD ONE HOUR to the transit times, and to the rise and set times of the appropriate latitude.

 

DST applies in Southern Australia through to Apr 5th 2008. To obtain DST, ADD ONE HOUR to the transit, rise and set times.

Provided the sky is sufficiently dark, it is recommended that the observer waits about 30 minutes after the planet's rising time to allow the planet to reach a high enough altitude to clear the haze, turbulence and light pollution which is prevalent near the horizon - the latter being a particular problem in city and town locations. Likewise when setting, the observer should attempt to find the planet at least 30 minutes before its actual setting time. Be aware that, due to local sky conditions and an effect called atmospheric extinction (which causes celestial bodies to appear dimmer when they are close to the horizon), a planet or constellation may not be visible at all unless it is at least a few degrees above the horizon.

If Mars is some months away from opposition when it is observed, its coloration may not be immediately obvious to the naked eye; in which case, a pair of binoculars will help to reveal its trademark orange coloration.

 

Rise/Transit/Set Directions Table

The directions in which Mars rises, transits and sets depends upon the constellation in which Mars appears at the time, and also on the observer's latitude. To find the rising/transiting/setting direction of Mars for your own location, refer to the following table and look up the directions for the nearest appropriate latitude:

 

Latitude

Date

Rise/Set Direction

Meridian Transit

Altitude

Direction

2008

Rise

Set

60 North

Jan 1 to Apr 19:

NNE

NNW

55 1

due South

Apr 20 to May 22:

NE

NW

54

50 North

Jan 1 to May 19:

NE

NW

63 3

due South

May 20 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

60

40 North

Jan 1 to Apr 9:

NE

NW

76 1

due South

Apr 10 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

74

30 North

Jan 1 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

83 3

due South

20 North

Jan 1 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

86 3

due North

0 (Equator)

Jan 1 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

66 3

due North

15 South

Jan 1 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

51 3

due North

25 South

Jan 1 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

41 3

due North

35 South

Jan 1 to May 22:

ENE

WNW

31 3

due North

Rise, transit and set directions of Mars during the first half of 2008 for a variety of latitudes. The Meridian Transit Altitude is the angular altitude of the planet when on the observer's meridian. When a celestial body crosses the observer's meridian (known as the meridian transit or culmination), it has reached its greatest angular altitude in the sky. Hence at latitude 40 North on March 10th 2008, Mars rose in the NE, transited the meridian (crossed the due South point) at its highest altitude of about 76 (i.e. about four-fifths of the way up the sky) and set in the NW.

Angular altitude (or elevation) is measured as 0 at the horizon (i.e. when an object is at the point of rising or setting), 45 when 'half way up the sky' and 90 when directly above the observer's head (a point known as the zenith). In the above picture, the bright star has an altitude of about 60 (i.e. it is "60 high"). Refer to the table on the left to find the maximum altitude which Mars reached from your own latitude in 2008.

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Copyright  Martin J Powell  November 2006


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