Catch Mercury in the morning

There is a particularly good opportunity to view Mercury at the moment. Usually the closest planet to the Sun is lost in the solar glare. But during late November it lies at one of its elongations – a time when it appears at its furthest from the Sun.

Mercury by Paul SutherlandMercury is currently rising early enough before the Sun and at a steep enough angle for it to be seen as a bright “star” in the morning twilight.

Find it by looking directly to the south-east soon after the first signs of dawn appear. The planet is actually positoned in the constellation of Libra, not far from the wonderfully named star Zubenelgenubi.

You will need to be quick to catch Mercury. It was at its greatest western elongation, 20 degrees from the Sun, on November 25 when it was rising around an hour and a half before sunrise. But it is now closing in and preparing to nip round the back of the Sun again in its 88-day orbit.

Through a big telescope, Mercury looks like a gibbous moon. It will be lost in the Sun’s glare again by mid December. Before that, use binoculars to spot it close to Jupiter and Mars in the twilight between December 9 – 11.

The photo is of an evening elongation of Mercury that I took in March 2004 from Sandwich, Kent.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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