Mars Opposition of 2020-2021

September 16. 2020.  The smoke from the fires on the West Coast have reached New Jersey.  The effect was like a light overcast with some reddened light getting through. 

This morning, around 3:30 AM the smoke had thickened and I had to use 5 times the usual shutter time to get usable videos from Mars, even using higher than the normal gain.  After turning on 5 frame averaging to help me with focusing, I forgot to turn it off for the first five videos I took.  I was only getting 16 fps doing the averaging and only 1007 frames per video.  When I turned it off, and played with the gain and shutter, I was able to get the frame rate up to 155 fps and get 9321 frames in each video.  The surprise was that when I separately derotated and stacked the 5 images made with averaging turned on and the 8 videos without, the averaged “mistake” gave a better result.  Perhaps we have been neglecting something useful. However, it might only work when the seeing is very good.  The surprising result is shown below.   Note both Arsia Mons and Olympus Mons near the terminator on the East or Preceding limb of the planet.  They are also shown in relief because of the low sun angle.  The western slopes are brightly illuminated while the eastern slopes are in shadow.  I have been watching for a big Martian crater lie Schiaparelli to end up hear the terminator in good conditions to see if we get relief effects like we see on the Moon, but so far it has not happened.

 

September 15, 2020.  Last night we had the unusual conditions of light smoke overhead, coming all the way from the west coast.  Not nearly as bad as it was in the midwest where my friend Ralph Taggart was only able to image Mars in the NIR.  In addition, there was enough overcast or fog that I was unable to image Jupiter around 8 pm. 

At 2 am, the overcast was gone and Mars was making it through the smoke so I set up the ASI183MC at the f/14 focus of the Shupmann and took a set of 16 one minute videos of 19200 frames each.  I had to use about 50% longer exposure to get a good image than I usually do, 3 ms vs the usual 2 ma, and a higher gain than usual as well.  I processed the videos in Autostakkert!3 keeping the best 8% of the frames and using the built in deconvolution for sharpening.  The resulting TIF images were derotated to a common central meridian and stacked and then lightly sharpened again using wavelets in Registax6.  The result is shown below.  Note the big notch out of the northern edge of Terra Sirenum.  I believe this is dust blown over the normally dark albedo region in early October of 2018 during the global dust storm.  A similar incursion exists on the west side of Syrtis Major.  See my image of August 31, 2020 for a good view of this.
Conditions are predicted by the CSC to be quite good tonight, 4/5 until 4am, then 5/5 until after dawn.  Jet stream predictions are for very low velocity also.  Keeping my fingers crossed about the smoke.

September 13, 2020.  Seeing was quite good this morning when I took 17 one minute long videos of Mars with the ASI183MC camera at the f/14 focus of the Schupmann.  These videos were processed in AS!3 with deconvolutive sharpening turned on.  The resulting images were converted into the animated GIF shown below.  They were also derotated and stacked in WinJUPOS and then sharpend a bit in Registax6.  This image, with annotation, is shown above.   Note that Olympus Mons is directly on the terminator.  A contrast enhanced clip is also shown by the annotated image with grid showing the sunlit western slopes at sunset and the shadowed eastern slopes. Looks like a little bump, but is actually the tallest volcano in the solar system.

September 12, 2020.  Seeing was pretty awful last night when Jupiter was observable and transparency was marginal.  I got three videos, but the best processing only gave a big smudge with the NEB and SEB barely recognizable.  Waste of time.  

However, when I went out at 2 AM to image Mars, seeing had improved considerably to about 3/5, plus, Mars was quite high in the sky, about 57 degrees on the meridian.  I took 22 one minute videos with the ASI183MC at the f/14 focus of the 7.25” Schupmann using a 2 ms exposure and a gain of 334.  With an ROI of only 192x140 pixels this gave me 410 fps and 24616 frames per video.  I processed them in Autostakkert!3, keeping only the 3% best frames, used Autostakkert’s deconvolution sharpening and then lightly sharpened again with wavelets in Registax6 where I also adjusted the color balance and histogram.  The 22 resulting images were derotated and stacked in WinJUPOS to give the result below, annotated in Photoshop.  An animated GIF was also prepared using all 22 of the images.

September 8, 2020.  Good seeing this morning! Maybe 4/5 rating.  I took 16 one minute videos of Mars at 432fps with the ASI183MC at the f/14 focus of the 7.25" Schupmann.  I processed them with Autostakkert!3, aligning and stacking the best 8% of the 25945 frames in each video and then derotated and stacked the resulting images in WinJUPOS and finally sharpened and histogram adjusted the final stack which is shown above.  The overlay grid on the right is courtesy WinJUPOS.  Longitudes may be estimated from this grid which is 10°x10°.  The central meridian is 241.5° East Longitude.  Add 10° for each grid mark to the right, subtract to the left.  The grid helps considerably in identifying surface markings.  Labels are a mix of traditional, pre-spaceflight maps prepared by visual observers and modern NASA maps.  We know there are no seas (Mare) on Mars, but NASA has no names for some prominent albedo features that do not relate to  topographic features on the planet.  Mare Chronium is just part of an extended Cimmeria Terra now even though it appears as a separate region based on its albedo (brightness).  The animated GIF below was prepared from the 16 images using GIMP.

A slightly better result was obtained using 3% of the frames rather than 2%,

September 7, 2020.  The high altitude of Mars continues to help out with the seeing.  Although only predicted to be average, the seeing was much better than I am used to getting from Jupiter or Saturn under average conditions.  I took 13 one minute videos with the ASI183MC at the f/14 focus of the little Schupmann, processed in Autostakkert!3, with the deconvolution sharpening turned on.  I adjusted color balance and levels in Registax6 and rejected two of the images because some of the good frames got too close to the tiny ROI I had defined of 128x130 pixels.  Maybe a bit too tight.  Still, I got 432 fps and nearly 26,000 frames per video with a shutter of 2 ms.  I derotated and stacked 11 of the images, each of which was a stack of only 2% of the frames in the video.  This is pushing my luck in lucky imaging.  Easy to do when you get so many frames in only one minute of video.  After minor sharpening in Registax6 I got the result below.  An image with grid, courtesy of WinJUPOS is included to help identify features.  Each grid unit is 10°x10°.  Note the small dark blob on the projection extending down (North) from Terra Cimmeria.  That tiny blob is Gale Crater where Curiosity rover is tooling around learning things.  Note also the very slight bluish haze over Syrtis Major.  This is high level clouds, often more pronounced than this.  There is also clouds extending south from the North polar cap where it is still probably snowing.  It is still late winter there.

September 5. 2020.  The sky did not look very promising this morning at 2 AM, variable haze and thin overcast and a well past full gibbous moon lighting it all up.  Mars was shining brightly though, so I woke up my night assistant Chewie and we went back to open up the observatory and got busy with the Schupmann and the ASI183MC.  Seeing was a bit above average, 3/5 or so and Mars was bright enough so that I could use an exposure of only 2 ms.  I used an auto-histogram setting of 50% to deal with the variable transparency and took a set of 15 videos of one minute duration between 06:26 and 06:40 UT and achieved a frame rate of 375 fps and collected 22516 frames per video.  I processed them in Autostakkert!3, keeping only the best 2% of the frames, sharpened with wavelets in Registax6 and then derotated them all to the common central meridian of 256° east longitude, stacked and sharpened lightly again to give the result shown below.  Labels for albedo features are a mix of traditional and NASA names.

August 31, 2020.  Seeing was quite good when I got up at 2 AM to image Mars.  I took 15 videos between 0620 and 0635 UT and worked them up using Autostakkert3 to align and stack the best 3% of the 21720 frames in each of the 60 sec videos with 1.5x drizzling selected to give better sampling.  These images were sharpened with wavelets in Registax6 and then all 15 images were derotated and stacked in WinJUPOS to give the annotated image shown below.

August 24, 2020.

Seeing was good this morning when I imaged Mars, but transparency was poor and variable.  Fortunately, the auto-histogram setting in Firecapture maintains reasonably constant image brightness in the presence of moderate changes in transparency. 
There seems to still be some local dust activity in the Ophir and Ganges region.  North polar hood is visible too extending over part of Mare Acidalium where it is now winter.  I bet it’s snowing down there under the clouds.  My annotated WinJUPOS output (with grid) is attached.
One of the NASA lander Phoenix returned videos of falling snow and imaged the growth of frost crystals on one of the landing leg struts.    See:
So, it does snow on Mars.  Phoenix was at Vastitas Borealis, on the northern abyssal plain, fairly high atmospheric pressure at an altitude of about 14,500 ft below the mean planum.  Hellas is even lower in altitude, 23,500 ft below the mean planum, so Mars weather can probably work up blizzards down there in the wintertime, that must be what lies under the abundant white cloud cover over Hellas in the winter.  It might be interesting to try to build an igloo there.  Wonder if the snow packs and would stick together in blocks?  We’ll have to suggest Matt Damon try that out in the next Martian movie…

 

August 11, 2020.  I got up in the wee hours this morning and captured 11, one minute long, videos of Mars using the ASI183MC at the f/14 focus of the 7.25” Schupmann.  Seeing was below average but usable.  My shutter was only 2 ms and I used a tiny ROI of only 128x128 pixels.  This gave a frame rate of 437 fps and allowed the capture of 26,230 frames in each of the one minute videos.  The best 5% of the frames of each video were aligned and stacke in Autostakkert3 and sharpened in Registax 6 then all 11 images were derotated and stacked in WinJUPOS and finally sharpened slightly in Registax.  The annotated result is shown below.  It is evident that a lot of dust got blown around back in 2018 when the global dust storm happened.  The dark albedo feature Mare Sirenum and surrounding region looks different from my images from previous oppositions and the BAA maps.  Will try to verify the changes as Mars gets closer.   There are a couple of light spots near the terminator which I thought might be the sunlit western slopes of a couple of the Tharsis ridge volcanoes lit up by the setting sun, but the coordinates aren’t quite right.   An animated GIF was also prepared from the 11 images and is attached.

     Above is an image made with only 2% of the frames of one of the videos, but with less sharpening in Registax.  Less of the edge artifact, but the albedo features are less visible.  You win some, and you lose some...

July 27, 2020. 

I almost overslept Mars this morning.  I was out around 5 am in the morning twilight getting seven 90 second videos with the ASI183MC at the f/14 focus of the Schuppy.  Some exposure problems with a bit of variable transparency, but I got a few good ones.  Mars was quite high in the sky, altitude = 52°,  and seeing was good, and I was getting up to 313 fps.  See attached.  Syrtis Major on the terminator, Hellas above center, Mare Erythraeum right of center.  Mars was 14” in diameter and looks pretty dust free.  Will get about 50% bigger at opposition.  This is going to be fun with a decent altitude for Mars observation.   More to do, but back to bed for now…

June 20, 2020.  After Jupiter had vanished behind a tree and when I had finished with Saturn, I noticed Mars peeping above the trees to the southeast, well up in the sky.  Got several 90 second videos of it, my first this opposition.  Even though Mars is still quite small, a lot of detail (and no sandstorm) is showing up.  Nice bright south polar cap, Hellas is bright and not obscured by dust or clouds.  After derotating and stacking the 5 images, more detail emerged, in spite of the fact that Mars is now only 10.24 arc seconds across.  The central meridian of the images is at 298.4 degrees and we are looking at a point 23.8 degrees south of the equator.  Chasma Australe, an ice free region extending almost to the pole is visible as a dark wedge extending into the polar cap.  The dark albedo feature is Syrtis Major near the terminator on the east.  Hellas is prominent and neither covered with dust as it was early in the season nor white clouds.  The annotated image of Mars is the first attachment.

Saturn July 17, 2013
Saturn July 17, 2013
The CPC-1100EdgeHD
The CPC-1100EdgeHD

The C14 retired from           Jenny Jump

Jupiter, September 11, 2013
Jupiter, September 11, 2013
7.25" Schupmann Medial
7.25" Schupmann Medial
Jupiter September 9, 2013
Jupiter September 9, 2013
12.5" Newtonian
12.5" Newtonian

Mars Sept 8, 2020

Mars August 18, 2003
Mars August 18, 2003
Venus March 11, 2012
Venus March 11, 2012
Mercury July 30, 2013
Mercury July 30, 2013
The Sun August 14, 2010
The Sun August 14, 2010
The Moon May 17, 2005
The Moon May 17, 2005
Lunar Terminator Strip 3/12/11
Lunar Terminator Strip 3/12/11