Sketching What You See
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Many potential planetary observers say they canít draw, so they never
even try to make planetary drawings. But drawing planets is not fine
art. Instead, it is a careful record of what you saw with your
telescope. An ugly drawing is just as useful as a masterpieceóso donít
let any lack of artistic ability stand in your way.
Use the AAAA observing
form for your drawings. Download our PDF
file and copy the form as many times as you need, use it to record
your observations, and file it in your observing notebook.
convenient method is to use index cards for planetary sketching. Put one
observation on each card, and be sure to include all relevant
information on the card. Cards are convenient at the telescope, easy to
stuff in the pocket of your shirt or coat, and easy to store in
date-order in a file box. Both 3x5 and 4x6 cards work well.
The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, ALPO,
recommends that observers use the "standard" Mars sketch template of 42
millimeters in diameter. The original reason for this is that Mars is
4,200 miles in diameter, so the image scale is a convenient 100 miles
per millimeter. Today it makes sense to maintain a uniform format even
if the mix of units seems a bit odd, especially of you plan to submit
your observations to ALPO.
Begin a sketch by drawing in the phase of
the planet and the polar cap in the 42-mm circle on your observing form.
Mars will have a pronounced gibbous appearance in August. South should
be at the top of your drawing. Sketch the major features with a few
rough outlines, then use a pencil to block in the areas of these
features and indicate how dark the features are. This preliminary stage
should take no longer than ten to fifteen minutes. If it takes longer,
the rotation of Mars will distort your drawing. Complete the sketch by
adding fine details and cloud features.
Your goal is not to make a pretty drawing but to record the visible
features of the planet. Donít be afraid to indicate clouds with dashed
lines or show bright spots with dotted lines and labels. Make notes
about everything you can see or even suspect you can see, including
color, visibility of clouds and features with and without color filters,
type of filter used (i.e., Wratten 47, or Optica b/c medium blue), and
the brightness of features.
As you become more familiar with Mars,
your skill as an observer will increase as you learn to recognize all
the standard features of the planet and become able to recognize subtle
changes when they occur. Donít expect to learn the names of all the
features right away; there are too many of them and the names are pretty
strange. If you learn the names of the major features from the chart on
page 3 and then locate these features on the planet as it approaches
Earth, you will soon know them all, and the process will be quite
AAAA Mars Card
|The AAAA Mars Card is a concise way to learn the
essential information about Mars during the current favorable opposition
in August and September 2003. Just click on either image to down load our
PDF, print it off, and make copies for yourself and to hand out at your
own Mars Observing Events for friends and the general public!
Make the Photocopies!
have time to make copies? Let us do the work for you. We will make copies
at $10 per 100 postpaid, as many as you want, and send them to you via
USPS Mail! Order online through CCNow, our Online Retailer. Canadian and
overseas orders additional postage.
AAAA Mars Card:
100 for $10 ppd:
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Planning for the Public
In planning any special Mars observing activities for the
general public or the media, keep in mind that in late August
when Mars is closest (diameter about 25 arc sec), it will only rise
about 30 degrees above the horizon at midnight ... so not good for
"early evening" observing. However, this situation improves through September:
end of September, Mars will still be over 20 arc sec. in diameter, but will cross the meridian (a bit more than 30
degrees high) earlier ... about 9:30PM. This placement is somewhat
better for public programs.
As always, there is the danger of
planet-wide dust storms at this perihelion. Storm activity on Mars will
easily wipe out any surface features otherwise visible.
Society has proclaimed August 27, 2003, the date of opposition, as "Mars
Day". The Planetary Society has a goal of "half of the world's
population looking at, or thinking about, Mars" on Mars day. So please
circle this day on your calendar. Now is the time to start planning Mars
Parties in your local area.
This chart by C.F. Chapin shows the
relative positions of Mars and Earth for the years 1988 to 2003. The
last great opposition of Mars was 1988. On August 28, 2003, Mars will be
at its closest approach to Earth in recorded history, at a distance of
only 34,646,418 miles.
Click on image for