Saturday, 1 February 2014

Mercury Rising!

From now until February 4, Mercury is the farthest it will be from the sun all year. What astronomers call its great eastern elongation. This means in the Northern Hemisphere you will be able to spot the planet in the twilight sky with the naked eye. It will be relatively high in the south western sky, ten degrees (about the width of your fist at arm’s length) above the setting sun.

Mercury will remain visible to the naked eye for up to one hour after sunset until early February, giving sky-watchers a small window of opportunity to catch sight of the planet. Thereafter, the planet resumes its place in the sun’s glare.

Knowing where and when to look will make it easier to spot this speedy little planet. First, find a viewing location that has a totally clear line of sight toward the west. Go out with binoculars about 30 minutes after sunset and scan the south west horizon for Mercury to appear as a yellow-orange star.

Look for the thin crescent moon 20 degrees above the south western horizon at dusk on today. Mercury will appear about ten degrees below it. By Sunday evening, the crescent moon will rise to double its distance above and to the left of Mercury.

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