Observe Mars in the night sky, July 2022

With opposition approaching on 8 December 2022, now's the time to start observing Mars in the night sky.

A 200mm or larger telescope will reveal surface features on Mars. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Published: June 28, 2022 at 9:00 am
Get your £10 Amazon Gift Card when you subscribe to BBC Sky at Night Magazine today!

We’re less than 6 months away from the next opposition of Mars on 8 December 2022, and it’s around this time that the planet starts to improve noticeably week on week.

Advertisement

This means it's time to start observing Mars in the run-up to opposition.

On 1 July, Mars shines at mag. +0.5 and presents a 7 arcsecond disc when viewed through a telescope’s eyepiece.

Chart showing the position of Mars in the night sky throughout July 2022
Credit: Pete Lawrence

At this time, instruments 200mm or larger will start to reveal surface features, present as dark markings on the Red Planet’s globe.

In addition, the southern polar cap should be visible as a bright ‘spot’ on the southern edge of the planet.

Mars will appear 85%-lit on 1 July, the planet’s southern pole tilted towards Earth by 20˚.

By the end of the month the Red Planet will have brightened slightly to mag. +0.2 and will be presenting an 8 arcsecond disc.

Mars's southern polar cap can be seen to shrink as the planet approaches perihelion. Note: in this image, south is up. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Mars's southern polar cap can be seen on the planet. Note: in this image, south is up. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Mars's phase will be 84%-lit on 31 July, the southern pole’s tilt angle having reduced so that it’s inclined to Earth by 14˚.

This will move the southern pole a bit further away.

At this time, increased warming in the planet’s southern hemisphere will have had an effect on the pole, its appearance naturally reducing.

On 31 July, Mars is located in the constellation of Aries, the Ram, and able to attain a peak altitude around 21˚ under dark-sky conditions as seen from the UK’s centre.

Mars before, during and after opposition Keith Johnson, Ferryhill, County Durham, 31 August– 30 October 2020. Equipment: ZWO ASI 290MM mono camera, Celestron 9.25-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro mount
Mars before, during and after opposition Keith Johnson, Ferryhill, County Durham, 31 August– 30 October 2020. Equipment: ZWO ASI 290MM mono camera, Celestron 9.25-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro mount

Although low, this is a good time to try and get acquainted with the planet.

With increasing dark-sky altitude and a growing apparent size, getting used to the view during July will put you in an excellent place to experience the view of Mars as it approaches opposition in early December.

A 35%-lit waning crescent Moon sits 4.5˚ to the east of Mars on 22 July.

On 31 July, Mars will lie 1.8˚ from mag. +5.8 Uranus.

Which planets to observe in July 2022

The phase and relative sizes of the planets, July 2022. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence
The phase and relative sizes of the planets, July 2022. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Mars

  • Best time to see: 31 July, 03:30 UT
  • Altitude: 37˚
  • Location: Aries
  • Direction: East-southeast
  • Features: Phase, surface markings, atmospheric phenomena, polar caps
  • Recommended equipment: 75mm, or larger

Mercury

  • Best time to see: 1 July, 30 minutes before sunrise
  • Altitude: 4˚ (very low)
  • Location: Taurus
  • Direction: Northeast

Mercury is a morning planet at the start of July, brightening as it creeps towards the Sun. On 1 July it shines at mag. –0.7 and rises 70 minutes before sunrise. By 7 July Mercury brightens to mag. –1.22, but rises only 55 minutes before the Sun. The last date of visibility is probably 12 July, when mag. –1.7 Mercury rises above the northeast horizon, 30 minutes before sunrise.

Superior conjunction is on 16 July, after which it emerges into the evening sky but is poorly placed. On 25 July, mag. –1.0 Mercury sets just 35 minutes after the Sun.

Venus

  • Best time to see: 31 July, 03:45 UT
  • Altitude: 9˚ (low)
  • Location: Gemini
  • Direction: East-northeast

Venus is in the morning sky, shining at mag. –3.8. On 1 July it rises 110 minutes before the Sun, increasing to 120 minutes by July’s end. Telescopically, Venus appears as a gibbous disc, 90%-lit, 10 arcseconds across. A waning crescent Moon is nearby on the mornings of 26 and 27 July.

Jupiter

  • Best time to see: 31 July, 03:30 UT
  • Altitude: 38˚
  • Location: Cetus
  • Direction: South

Jupiter is a morning planet, but over past weeks its position has been poor, only appearing at low altitude before sunrise. Now we’re past the June solstice, the UK’s night is lengthening and Jupiter is improving.

Jupiter is located in the northwest corner of Cetus, the Whale. Shining at mag. –2.4, it is visited by a 65%-lit waxing gibbous Moon on the morning of 19 July, which sits 3˚ south of the planet at 02:00 BST (01:00 UT).

Saturn

  • Best time to see: 31 July, 01:20 UT
  • Altitude: 22˚
  • Location: Capricornus
  • Direction: South

Things begin to improve for Saturn this month, as we’re past the June solstice. As it approaches opposition on 14 August, Saturn is able to reach its highest position in the sky, due south, in relative darkness from mid-month onwards.

A 91%-lit waning gibbous Moon sits below Saturn on the morning of 16 July, the pair rising together around 23:20 BST (22:20 UT) on 15 July.

Uranus

  • Best time to see: 31 July, 01:30 UT
  • Altitude: 21˚
  • Location: Aries
  • Direction: East

A morning planet, improving in position towards July’s end.

Neptune

  • Best time to see: 31 July, 01:30 UT
  • Altitude: 29˚
  • Location: Pisces
  • Direction: Southeast

Neptune is poorly located in the morning sky at July’s start, a situation which improves rapidly as the nights lengthen. By July’s end, Neptune reaches an altitude of nearly 30˚ under dark skies.

Neptune is in Pisces, but this doesn’t last for long as it slips back into Aquarius mid-August.

Advertisement

This article originally appeared in the July 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content