What’s up in the Sky?

This is a big time for solar system events! A total lunar eclipse is visible in most of North America on the night of the 14th, and Mars reached opposition (its closet approach to Earth) on April 9th. The lunar eclipse requires no special equipment for viewing, and a modest camera and telephoto lens can produce excellent photographs. Just take your time and get the exposure settings correct! 450x450_q75 Mars is visible in the Southeast after sunset with the naked eye, but a larger telescope will reveal Mars to be something more than a pinpoint star. Only very large amateur telescopes will reveal any detail visually, but this is the best time to attempt to photograph Mars. Planetary photography is best done with a webcam adapted to fit onto a telescope, and an automated tracking mount. The atmosphere will cause a planet to shimmer in and out of clarity, but a webcam shooting video can be processed later into a detailed image. Software packages are available to sort out the best frames and “stack” them into a higher quality image. The full moon this week will make serious deep sky observing a challenge, but there’s enough activity in our own backyard to keep you busy!