Video: Astrophotographer creates stunning global map of Mars

Astrophotographer Jean-Luc Dauvergne spent six nights this fall capturing images of Mars. Dauvergne used the 1.06m telescope of Pic du Midi observatory in the French Pyrenees to capture his photos, which he has since used to create a global map of Mars.

In addition to the six nights Dauvergne spent at the observatory, he told PetaPixel that it took him an additional 10 days to process the images. He says that Pic du Midi ‘is one of the best places in the world for planetary imaging.’

The 1m telescope has a 17,000mm focal length and was originally installed in 1963 to help NASA with its Apollo missions. Dauvergne says that ‘it’s still one of the best [telescopes] in the world to study planetary surfaces in the visible part of the spectrum.’ He’s used the telescope to create what he says is the best global map of Mars shot from Earth’s surface.

Dauvergne photographed Mars this October and November due to the Mars opposition. This event happens roughly every 26 months. This year, the opposition itself occurred on October 13. You can learn much more about the Mars opposition by clicking here. Dauvergne picked a great place for his observations and the Pic du Midi Observatory has an interesting history with observing Mars.

Image credit: Jean-Luc Dauvergne. Click to enlarge.

The Pic du Midi observatory is located 9,439′ (2,877m) above sea level at the top of the Pic du midi de Bigorre mountain. The Pic Du Midi Observatory is part of the Midi-Pyrenees Observatory, which includes additional research stations in France. Construction of the observatory began on the mountaintop all the way back in 1878, although costs slowed progression significantly. In 1908, an 8m dome with a mechanical equatorial reflector was built. Interestingly, this reflector was used to observe Mars and discredit the theory that there were canals on its surface.

When NASA funded the building of the 1m telescope in 1963, the telescope was used to photograph the surface of the Moon. In 1965, the telescope was then used by astronomers Pierre and Janine Connes to analyze Mars and Venus. Their work helped inform James Lovelock, a scientist in California, to theorize that these planets didn’t support life.

The observatory includes a 2m telescope as well, which was built in 1980. It’s the largest telescope in France. There’s also a 0.6m telescope which has been used by amateur astronomers since the early 80s. In total, the Pic du Midi Observatory includes four telescopes. With the aid of these telescopes, the discovery of nine minor planets are credited to the Pic du Midi Observatory.

If you’d like to see more from Jean-Luc Dauvergne, check out his Twitter and YouTube channel. On YouTube, he has additional videos of Mars from his observations at Pic du Midi.