Mountains of Mitchell from Palo Alto, CA

by David Kingsley

We had a good first view of the Mountains of Mitchell on Mars Saturday night from my backyard near Palo Alto California. I had my cousin over that night who had never looked at Mars through a telescope before. Most people who I have shown Mars through a telescope take a quick peak and are done looking in less than a minute. However, my cousin is an artist and painter, and was fascinated by the play of light, dark, and shading on the surface. After looking at Mars very quietly for several minutes through the eyepiece of my 14.5 inch Starmaster Dob, she looked up with a smile on her face to say that the ice cap on Mars looked split, with a finger of ice that had detached on one side. I had seen irregularity in the ice cap before, but this was a much more obvious detached segment that had not been apparent a week earlier under good seeing conditions from 8000 feet up at Mount Lassen (though the central meridian has changed too, so I was not sure if we were just getting a better angle on something that may have developed earlier).

I stuck a Toucam Pro in the eyepiece for a 20 second movie clip around 11:30 Saturday night, my first try at imaging Mars through the telescope. Mars looked worse on screen than through the eyepiece. However, assembling the images later produced something pretty close to what we had seen visually, and clearly showed the split in the South Polar Cap.

The image also recorded a slightly brighter region just off the end of Sinus Sabeus and Sinus Meridiani that my cousin had earlier described at the eyepiece as "beautiful light with a more luminous, brighter quality than the rest of the planet." She must of observed Mars for at least an hour and a half, and was still picking out interesting new details when the planet began to be obscured by trees to our South. A very fun observing session, and my best view of Mars from in town all summer.