The Highest-Resolution map of Mars ever captured from Earth

A team of amateur and professional astronomers have released astonishing pictures of planet Mars using a 1-meter diameter ground-based telescope. They carried on their observations for several nights and ended up forming, what one thinks to be, the most resolved map of Mars ever obtained from Earth![1]

Animated GIF of Mars with observations conducted in mid-october 2020 at Pic du Midi. 

★ State-of-the-Art Images of the Red Planet

This level of details, as we rarely see in planetary imaging, was made possible thanks to: a 1-meter diameter telescope inherited after the Apollo era, a premium observation site and a skilled team of passionate/professional astronomers and optical engineers.
Located at Pic du Midi Observatory, atop a 2777-meter altitude mountain, in the French Pyreneans, this telescope was indeed funded by NASA and installed in 1963 in order to take high-resolution pictures of the surface of the moon in preparation for the Apollo landings. Pic du Midi observatory is one of the best places in France for either amateur or professional astronomy. It was awarded the International Dark Sky Reserve title in 2013.

Mars as seen from Pic du Midi observatory, through the T1M telescope ; the telescope's most detailed image of the red planet to date, and probably one of the world's most detailed ground-based image of Mars as well.

The T1M telescope is now used and maintained by an handful of amateur and professional astronomers who regularly come to the summit for specific missions such as optimizing the imaging performance of the instrument. The outcome often goes beyond what was initially expected: crystal-clear photographs of the solar system planets, and even natural satellites, as illustrated later on this article.

The latest images of the red planet were taken between October 8th and November 1st 2020 (by Thierry Legault and François Colas) and are the most detailed ones ever obtained since the telescope was built almost 60 years ago! Astronomers benefited from having an optimal position of Mars relative to the Earth and the Sun. Indeed, on October 13th 2020, the Sun, the Earth and Mars were perfectly aligned - a moment where Mars appears bigger in the sky than usual, called an opposition. The team took the advantage of this extraordinary event because Mars will not be as close to the Earth before 2035
Looking at their 2020 pictures makes us wonder about whether they captured them taken from the Earth or from space. For readers who are familiar with astrophotography, the sampling scale is 0.045"/pixel!

Few weeks after the end of the observation campaign, Jean-Luc Dauvergne, a member of the team, suddenly figured out that the pictures of Mars sampled the entire surface of the planet, meaning that a global map could be extracted from the data.

After several hours of CPU-processing, and lot of effort, the sharpest global map of Mars was created. From this map was computerized a 3D-spheric rendering, showing the planet in 360°! (see the video below)

Congratulations to the joint efforts of François Colas, Jean-Luc Dauvergne, Guillaume Dovillaire, Thierry Legault, Guillaume Blanchard, D.Baratoux, Alain Klotz and of S2P, IMCCE, OMP and Imagine Optic!

A Performing station for planetary imaging

One of the clearest views of Saturn from Earth, captured with the T1M telescope at Pic du Midi observatory in 2017.

It is not the first time (nor the last time) we hear about this 1-meter telescope at Pic du Midi, designated as S2P (for 'Pyreneans Planetology Station'). Equipped with the same spectacular telescope, another team of amateur and professional astronomers had previously shared breathtaking views of our solar system back in 2017 which became viral: Saturn, Jupiter and even Ganymede!

A high-resolution photograph of Jupiter and one of its moons, Ganymede.


[1] Source: Ciel & Espace

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@AstroGuigeek Ingénieur doctorant, Astronome et Photographe amateur / French Engineer & Ph.D student, Astrophotographer & Amateur Astronomer. I simply love sharing my experience, advice and facts on Astronomy.

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