65 Years of Backyard Mars Observing

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Ernie Pfannenschmidt (deceased)

April 9, 2003
University of Victoria, Elliott Building, Room 061

Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in recorded history this August, and Mars observing will be everyone's priority. Who better then, to talk about this subject than someone who has observed the Red Planet for 65 years? Ernie Pfannenschmidt shared Mars observing lore, and his opinions on the tools we need to take advantage of this opposition.

Ernie built instruments for more than 20 years at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, and he still writes and speaks frequently on the subject of astronomical instruments. In the current (April 2003) issue of Sky and Telescope, Ernie has an article about a Crutch Tripod for telescopes.

Ernie showing off his telescope crutch - used to steady the observer, not the scope!

The wrong receiver - 14" image versus 4" image.
Left: 14" professional CCD image taken with an enhanced filter on Mt. Kobau.
: Sky & Telescope film-based image taken with a 4" Takahashi f/7

Hubble Mars image - 1995

Bigger optics give more seeing sensitivity, but don't necessarily result in a "better" image. Quality optics are key to better images.  One arc second is about all most site can deliver anyway.

Ernie's hand drawing of Mars using the 5" f/15 Folded Refractor from his light-polluted driveway.

5" f/15 Folded Refractor

50 Years of Mars
See notes on image

Left: Hand-drawn images from the 3�" f/15 Yager Folded Refractor
Right: Hubble images

3�" f/15 Yager Folded Refractor

3�" f/15 Yager Folded Refractor
Mirror (left), Diagonal (middle), Objective (right)

 Before "canals" - pre-Schiceperelli

After "canals" - note that most of the planet is obscured by dust clouds.

5" f/9.5 Newtonian
(Donated to RASC Victoria Centre)

Ernie's hand-drawn 1950 Mars map using the 5" f/9.5 Newtonian (right).
Compare features - middle right of this map to latest Mars probe images (below - larger scale).

Latest Mars probe image of Mars

Latest Mars probe image of Mars

"In Love with Mars"
Ernie on the cover of Der Spiegel as a result of public interest in the 1950 Mars Dust Storm
DER SPIEGEL- original article (in German)

The Global Martian Dust Storm of July & August 2001 - CCD images and Ernie's drawings

Ernie's drawings and notes of Mars

Ernie's drawings and notes of Mars

Ernie's drawings and notes of Mars

Ernie's planetary drawings as observed from his driveway.
Top: Saturn, Feb 12, 2003 (5" f/15 Folded Refractor)
Bottom: Jupiter, 1969 (3�" f/15 Yager Folded Refractor)

Ernie's filters - fit over the eyepiece

Apodizing Mask
Gain noticeable contrast on planets (not stars or moon). Refer to Ernie's upcoming article in RASC Journal for details. John Herschel had the original idea for this mask.
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Last updated: January 29, 2014

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