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Rare Chance to See the Planet Mercury on Friday Night

On February 8, 2013  NASA MESSENGER spacecraft snapped this colorful view of Mercury These colors are not what Mercury would look like to the human eye, but rather the colors enhance the chemical, mineralogical, and physical differences between the rocks that make up Mercury's surface. This week sky-watchers get a chance to see the barren planet for themselves in the evening sky. Credit: NASA / JHU Applied Physics Lab / Carnegie Inst. Washington
Sky-watchers get a chance to see Mercury with the naked eye this weekend. Credit: NASA/JHU Applied Physics Lab/Carnegie Institution for Science

Sky-watchers this week get a rare chance to catch sight of a tricky cosmic target: Mercury. This most elusive of naked-eye planets puts on its best appearance of 2014 in the evening sky starting on Friday.

Locating this baked, barren world is usually a serious challenge, even for seasoned stargazers, because the planet never strays far from the glow of the sun. Mercury is the closest planet to our star—never traveling more than 43.5 million miles (70 million kilometers) in its orbit—so it always sets soon after sundown and rises just before sunrise.

But 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 folks in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to spot the planet in the twilight sky with the naked eye. It will be relatively high in the southwestern 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.

Observing Tips

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 southwest horizon for Mercury to appear as a yellow-orange star.

First weekend in February 2014 offers an excellent chance to hunt down Mercury thanks to the nearby moon in the twilight sky.  Credit: Starry Night software -  A.Fazekas
The first weekend in February 2014 offers an excellent chance to hunt down Mercury, thanks to the nearby moon in the twilight sky. Credit: Starry Night software—A. Fazekas

Look for the razor-thin crescent moon 20 degrees above the southwestern horizon at dusk on February 1. 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.

If you miss this viewing opportunity, you will have to wait until May for another glimpse of Mercury—but your chances won’t be as good then because the planet will be buried deeper in the glow of sunset.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. Kate
    March 12, 11:09 am

    I’m sad!!!!I didn’t get to see it!!!!

  2. fred
    Sydney
    February 4, 11:05 pm

    I got the news really late, so i missed the view, i decided
    to get my privet jet, fly close to the edge of the universe and had a good glamps of it… Nicee

  3. demaj splunge
    chicago
    February 4, 12:09 pm

    a really like this photo of mercury and this is my planet i am learning about do u have more facts and pics

  4. Johann
    South Africa
    February 2, 1:27 pm

    Sorry, I can’t see it. We live in the Southern Hemisphere and its been raining all weekend.
    Enjoy they great view in the north!

  5. SANDRA LOPEZ
    Guatemala Centro América
    February 1, 11:14 pm

    Momento a momento me convenzo mas y mas de lo maravilloso que es DIOS en su infinita sabiduría, gracias por permitir que yo sea parte de esa creación.

  6. Jeanette
    Canada
    February 1, 3:07 pm

    Amazing, I got up at around 6:15 a.m. and looked outside and to my surprising eyes saw Mercury. It was this very bright yellow star. At first I was not sure; but I looked the other stars and they were not as big and bright as this one. Called my husband and he also was amaze. What a beautiful view!

  7. elizabeth chamberlain
    Great Britian
    February 1, 2:00 pm

    Thankyou am sending you a big kiss

  8. hannah
    india
    February 1, 12:56 pm

    amazing……. wow….

  9. Satomi
    London, UK
    February 1, 12:54 pm

    I was finally able to see it after 1 hour of sunset, but it was so tiny that I wouldn’t have spotted it without a binocular. It did look orange-ish.

  10. marco ribeiro
    Columbia, Maryland, USA
    February 1, 12:15 pm

    Per Universetoday writer on viewing Mercury from the Southern Hemisphere in 2014: “While the January and May evening apparitions of Mercury will be “in the weeds” for southern hemisphere viewers, the Sept 21st one promises to be a decent event, with the planet over 20 degrees above the western horizon at sunset. More to come!

    Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/108533/how-to-see-planet-mercury-at-its-best-in-2014/#ixzz2s5jTNmSC

  11. LEO
    February 1, 11:10 am

    amazing!!

  12. Erica
    CA, USA
    February 1, 9:12 am

    Another example which demonstrates the beauty & usefulness of the Starry Night Software, no photoshop needed. Those with access to this software can input various locations to view the night sky at given coordinates (as well as future dates) & I’m thankful for this heads up!

  13. Phong Tran
    vietnam
    February 1, 6:38 am

    Can we see it from Vietnam?

  14. MARIANNA WASILEWSKA
    Oswiecim-Polska
    February 1, 6:11 am

    Merkury jest moim patronem,widze ze,jest rownie piekny jak ja

  15. Anna
    England
    February 1, 4:30 am

    Hi this us a message for Sneha. This is a photo of Mercury but it is a false colour image to indicate all the different minerals etc that make up Mercury’s surface. Taken by NASA.

  16. edina
    magyarország
    February 1, 4:04 am

    hol lehet láthato

    • Andrew Fazekas
      February 1, 3:38 pm

      Visible very low in the southwest sky about 30 minutes after your local sunset. Good luck!

  17. Kami
    Breda, Netherlands
    February 1, 3:18 am

    Sneha: I think you might be right; it does look a lot more like Callisto.
    If it is, that is quite a mistake for National Geographic.. or NASA where they got the picture from.. 0.o

  18. soledayo
    Nigeria
    February 1, 1:19 am

    can we spot this planet in nigeria,Ondo precisely.

    • Andrew Fazekas
      February 1, 3:45 pm

      Yes, it is visible low in the west 20 minutes after sunset. Good luck!

  19. lucky
    uganda
    February 1, 12:53 am

    lucky me, my home is crossed by the equator ,so if i don’t see it in the southern hemisphere, i will just go in my backyard which is in the northern hemisphere and see it.:) how cool is that:)

  20. JASRAJ
    india
    January 31, 11:49 pm

    I think in this photo the size of this planet is more big ………as it should not be…………………….

  21. JASRAJ
    india
    January 31, 11:47 pm

    wow what a great opportunity……..

  22. Meo
    Canada
    January 31, 9:38 pm

    It’s funny though. We can see both through a cloudy sky! Isn’t it weird? Probably that, the guy behind Photoshop, didn’t realised that there were a little too much clouds. :D

  23. Sneha
    United States
    January 31, 9:11 pm

    The picture looks like it could be the picture of one of Jupiter’s moon, Callisto.
    Am I wrong?

  24. David
    Sydney
    January 31, 8:35 pm

    Only northern hemisphere will be able to spot Mercury? What about South hemisphere?

  25. joao
    ecuador
    January 31, 8:34 pm

    es super bonito

  26. bastiaan
    venezuela
    January 31, 8:22 pm

    just before sunrise , like 30 minutes its also visible towards the east , (5:30) local time (6:00) EST

  27. Dana
    Richmond, VA, USA
    January 31, 8:15 pm

    If you made it any easier to find, you’d be here, turning me in the right direction and pointing to it. =)

  28. Joe
    Sydney, Australia
    January 31, 8:06 pm

    Any chance Mercury can be seen in the southern hemisphere?

  29. Jacques
    BELGIUM (oversea...!!!)
    January 31, 3:56 pm

    this photo is very nice and détails!
    congratulations, realy!