Can You See Mars With A Telescope? Our Easy Guide

Can You See Mars With A Telescope? Our Easy Guide

Recently, I wrote a review article on the best telescopes for amateur astronomers where our team researched and tested a number of affordable portable telescopes. If you’ve recently purchased a portable telescope and are still learning how to use it and what you can do with it, you might be asking “Can you see Mars with a telescope”.

As Mars is one of the closest planets to Earth and the fourth planet from the sun, it is certainly possible to see it with a portable telescope but to get the absolute best view of the red planet, you have to pick your time carefully.

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To help you out, I did some research and put together this easy guide on getting the best view of Mars through your telescope.

When Is The Best Time To View Mars Through A Telescope?

As you would probably know, Earth, Mars and all the other planets in our solar system are constantly on the move as they rotate around the sun. This means that the distance between Mars and Earth can vary considerably from one year to another.

In fact, the entire cycle of when Mars is closest to the Earth as opposed to being the farthest distance away takes two years. This is because it takes 687 of our Earth days for Mars to orbit around the sun as opposed to the 365 days it takes the Earth to make the same orbit.

When Mars is farthest from Earth it can be 250,000,000 miles away. On the other hand, when Mars happens to be closest to the Earth, it is only 35,000,000 miles away. Of course, this is still a considerable distance but at this stage of the cycle, it can be quite rewarding to see Mars’ surface through a telescope.

At the time of writing this article, the last time that Mars was closest to the Earth was in December 2022. Therefore, when we consider the two-year cycle, we can surmise that Mars will again be fairly close to Earth in late 2024 or early 2025. 

Make sure you put this on your calendar so that you don’t forget. 

In the northern hemisphere, the best times to see Mars in the night sky are from September through to December. This is when Mars will rise in the late evening and be fairly easy to see through a telescope.

Mars can also range in brightness throughout the year and this will have an impact on how much detail of the surface of Mars you’ll be able to see. If you want to find some charts that track and predict the planet’s progress, have a look at the In-The-Sky website.

What Can You See On The Planet’s Surface When Mars Is Close To Earth?

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Although the surface of the planet Mars is quite barren and seems to be just comprised of red dust, there are plenty of other things that you should be able to see on a good night and with the right telescope.

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Polar Ice Caps On The North And South Poles

Just like the Earth, Mars has polar ice caps on both the north and south poles and these are relatively easy to spot through a telescope. These usually appear as bright spots on either end of the planet.

Valles Marineris Canyons

These huge canyons cover the Martian surface and can stretch for over 2,000 miles.

Olympus Mons Volcano

Just like the Earth, Mars also has volcanos and Olympus Mons is actually the largest volcano in our entire solar system. It reaches a height of 16 miles and is truly a magnificent sight to see.

Dark Spots

If you notice some dark spots or darker regions as you’re looking at Mars through your telescope, these are actually the remains of ancient lava flows with the largest of these named the Sytis Major Planum.

Dust Storms

As Mars is quite a hostile planet, it can often be covered by dust storms for days and weeks on end. Sometimes, these dust storms can even cover the entire planet making it difficult to distinguish some of the other Martian features.

Does It Matter What Size Of Telescope You Have When Viewing Mars?

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Most telescopes should allow you to see Mars but how much detail you can see will depend on the size and features of the telescope.

For example, small scopes may only allow you to see Mars as a small red dot. On the other hand, a larger telescope will allow you to see all the surface features on the planet.

The features of the telescope that are the most important for getting a detailed view of Mars are the size of the aperture, the focal length of your telescope, the quality of the eyepiece and whether your telescope has color filters.

For example, telescopes with larger apertures of at least 10 inches, will allow you to see much more details on the planet’s surface than if you have a smaller telescope with an aperture of only 4 inches.

Similarly, even a small telescope that has a longer focal length will give you a high magnification and allow you to see more details on the planet than one that has a shorter focal length.

The quality of the eyepiece that comes with your telescope has an effect on the sharpness of the image while violet or blue filters will give you a better view of the dust clouds. Many telescopes also come with an orange filter that will allow you to see more details of the dark spots on the planet.

Which Telescopes Will Give You The Best View Of Mars

As Mars is around half the size of the Earth, to see many of the distinguishable features on the surface of the planet, you’ll need a decent-sized telescope.

Here’s a chart that shows the size and features of a number of telescopes and what you’ll be able to see.

ApertureFocal LengthWhat You’ll See
10 inches1500 mmYou will be able to spot the main features on the planet’s surface
15 inches2000 mmYou will be able to see the planet’s surface in good detail
15 inches3000 mmYou will be able to see even the minor details on the planet’s surface

However, if you have a telescope with a smaller aperture than 10 inches, even one as small as three or four inches, you should still be able to distinguish the polar ice caps and the dust storms on the red planet.

How Do You Spot Mars In The Night Sky

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If you have a telescope that is connected to an app such as Celestron’s SkyPortal, this should allow you to easily find Mars in the night sky. 

However, it’s good to remember that around every 26 months, Mars is in opposition to the sun. This means that as the sun sets in the west, Mars will rise in the east. This is referred to as the Mars opposition.

The other way to easily find Mars in the night sky is to have a look at an online star chart or search for some current magazines on astronomy.

At certain times of the year, you should also be able to see Mars in the sky with the naked eye. It will appear as a bright star with a reddish glow.

If you can spot Mars with the naked eye, you should easily be able to use the finderscope on your telescope to get the correct position to view the planet.

How Color Filters Can Allow You To See More Detail

Color filters can be very useful in helping you to see certain details on Mars’ surface. Here’s a guide to the different colored filters and what you should use them for.

Filter NumberFilter ColorBenefits
80ABlueLet’s you see dust clouds more clearly
56GreenEnhances your view of the polar caps
25RedBest for viewing the polar caps and other features on the Martian surface
21OrangeGives you a better view of the canyons and craters

It’s important to note that you should only use one colored filter at a time to give you the best view of the features that you want to see.

Make Sure Conditions Are Right

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To ensure that you have the best chance of getting a good view of Mars in the night sky, you want to make sure that you choose the right conditions for your astronomy adventure. 

Choose a still night with clear skies. Limit the amount of light pollution by going to a viewing spot that is away from residential and industrial areas. This will also allow you to see other celestial objects that might be visible because Mars is not the only planet that you can see with a telescope.

You might even find that the very early hours of the morning are ideal because conditions are generally calm and still.

Top Tips For Amateur Astronomers

If you’re fairly new to astronomy, here are some top tips from the experts to make the best use of your telescope.

  • Place your telescope outside around an hour before you intend to use it. This allows the telescope to adjust to the outside temperature and operate more efficiently.
  • If you happen to have a Schmidt-Cassegrain or Newtonian telescope, make sure that it is collimated before you head out to get some detailed views of Mars.
  • Consider viewing Mars at the same time on different days over a number of weeks. This way, you’ll be able to see different surface details more easily.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you see Mars with a telescope during the day?

If your telescope is powerful enough, you should be able to see Mars during the day if you know where to look. Just be careful that you never ever point the telescope at the sun.

How strong of a telescope do you need to see Mars?

Mars can be seen with even a 4-inch telescope but the stronger the telescope, the more details you’ll be able to see on the planet’s surface.

What is the easiest planet to see?

Venus is the closest planet to Earth and is the easiest to see as it is one of the brightest planets.

In Summary

If taking a closer look at Mars intrigues you, then it is certainly possible to see Mars with a telescope. However, the amount of detail that you’ll see will depend on the size and features of the telescope you have.

It’s also important to check the progress of the planet as it orbits around the sun because, at certain times, it will be closer to the Earth which means that you’ll be able to see more.