Mars Opposition – July 27th 2018


What is the Mars Opposition?

This July, Mars gears up to be Earth’s best friend as it becomes its red shiny neighbour. Known as the opposition, it’ll have stargazer and astrophotographers dusting off their old telescope and setting it up in perfect view for the monumental event.

Mars and Earth both orbit the sun but at different speeds and distances. Every two and a half years, Mars, Earth and the Sun align and this is referred to as opposition. As Earth passes between Mars and the Sun, light bounces off Mars surface and reflects back to earth. This makes Mars appear brighter than ever.

Mars opposition happens roughly every two years, however, the distance between Earth and Mars changes every time.  This year’s opposition on July 27th, Mars will be the closest it’s been since 2003. In 2003 Mars was the closest it had been in 60,000 years! Mars was 55.8m km’s away from Earth surface in 2003 and on the 27th of July, it’ll be 57.6m km’s away. This will make it appear 10x greater than its usual size.

When the Earth, Sun and Mars are all aligned, the Sun will set as Mars rises, and as the Sun rises, Mars will set. This is a significant event for any stargazer or astrophotographer, as it’ll be 2035 before Mars will ever be this close to Earth again!

How to get the best views of Mars?

To get the best view of Mars, we suggest practising on other bright celestial objects such a Jupiter or Saturn. If you’re into astrophotography, try taking a picture of the Moon or other celestial objects so you’re familiar with your gear and can master your technique.

The best time to view celestial objects is when they reach their highest point in the sky, away from the horizon. Rule of thumb is to view objects at an angle greater than 45 degrees to avoid atmospheric pollution.  We’d also suggest trying to view Mars from an area that isn’t impacted light pollution, such as built up city’s or next to any bright street lights.

What to expect?

What you can expect during the opposition is much greater detail while observing Mars. With an adequate setup, you should be able to see great detail on the surface of Mars, the polar ice caps, dark volcanic rock structures and any sizable dust storms. You’ll also be able to easily view Mars with the naked eye, as it’ll appear brighter than any other star in the sky aside from Venus.

What gear will I need?

Telescope pic

To obtain an optimal viewing experience, we recommend any telescope with a long focal length, a diameter greater than 130mm (5inches) and a focal ratio of f/10 or more. A telescope of this nature will capture enough light to observe great surface detail on Mars. We’d also recommend attaching a 2x Barlow lens to maximise the size of the image you’re viewing along with a 6.3mm eyepiece.

For anyone looking to photograph the red planet, we suggest using a monochrome (black & white) camera with an LRGB filter set. Colour cameras will work fine, however, monochrome cameras tend to capture much more surface detail and will produce better results. Anyone just getting started with astrophotography, or doesn’t have access to a DSLR camera, we’d suggest the ScopePix smartphone adapter for your eyepiece, allowing to you capture your observations quick and easily.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue) planetary filters set will definitely enhance your viewing experience. A red planetary filter will block the blue and green light, darkening the Maria and lightening the desert regions on the surface. The blue filter will bring out details of the polar ice caps, while the green planetary filters will boost the contrast, revealing clouds and dust storms, usually hidden by Mars’s red surface.

The experts here at Optics Central have put together a small list of telescopes and recommended accessories, aimed to enhance your Mars opposition viewing experience. If you’re unsure on how the equipment works or just need further advice, feel free to shoot us an email or give us call and our experienced staff will be happy to help – Happy stargazing!

Optic Central’s Mars Top Pick’s



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