How to draw Mars at your telescope

Mars is a fantastic object through a telescope. By continuously observing the Red Planet and making sketches or drawings of what you see, you’ll learn about the features of Mars in no time.

And when you record the date and time of your drawings, you’re also building a scientific record of the changing typography.

Mars reaches opposition on December 8, 2022, meaning now is a great time to observe and sketch the Red Planet as it only gets better as we get closer to the end of the year.

Start sketching the Red Planet well before the opposition and it won’t be long before you have drawings of the entire surface.

Follow these 5 easy steps and start sketching!

A sketch of a dust storm over Argyre Planitia on Mars, along with detailed observation notes.  Credit: Paul Abel

A sketch of a dust storm over Argyre Planitia on Mars, along with detailed observation notes. Credit: Paul Abel

Table of Contents

5 steps to draw Mars

  1. First you need to make a space to draw on. Download BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Mars Observation Form or create your own by drawing a 50mm diameter white circle.
  2. Spend a good 15 minutes observing Mars through your telescope before you begin. What details are visible? Can you see a polar cap? Are there any noticeable dark markings? What else can you see? Experiment with the magnification to avoid blurring the features too much.
  3. You are ready to draw. Begin by inserting the terminator. Mars is 100% illuminated near opposition, but the planet has a phase on either side of opposition. The terminator is not necessarily at right angles to the central meridian, so draw it carefully.
  4. Now add the most prominent dark features, then the polar cap if you can see it. Add subtle features like clouds or delicate stripes. The rim of Mars can be quite bright when clouds are present. Complete your drawing in 12 minutes: If you stay longer, Mars’ rotation has shifted the features significantly.
  5. Finally, note the date, time (in UT) and the size and details of the telescope. You can add other data such as the value of the central meridian: this tells you which feature is on the north-south line at the time of your drawing.
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Paul Abel sketched this areocentric longitude (Ls) map of the most prominent features of Mars (30° = 1 month).  It was drawn with a mirror-inverted telescope (south up).  Credit: Paul Abel

Paul Abel sketched this areocentric longitude (Ls) map of the most prominent features of Mars (30° = 1 month). It was drawn with a mirror-inverted telescope (south up). Credit: Paul Abel

Try now

Once you’re comfortable sketching the surface of Mars, you can experiment with using different color filters.

Blue brings out white clouds, Orange/Red brings out all orange clouds.

If your drawing was created with a filter, make a note of that as well. The more you draw Mars, the more you will see!

Have you made sketches of Mars? We’d love to see them! Email them to us at [email protected]

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

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