March 10, 2011

Mr. Mercury, meet Mr. Jupiter

Mercury will make his best evening appearance of the year¬†during the next couple of weeks. The tiny planet will reach maximum “eastern elongation” (angular separation from the Sun) on March 22nd. That evening little Mercury will set about 45 minutes after the Sun.


Mercury and Venus are “inferior” planets, that is they are between us and the Sun. Therefore they always appear in our sky within a couple of hours of sunrise or sunset. This best evening appearance of speedy little Mercury for 2011 will be made all the more interesting by a conjunction with Jupiter. Beginning this weekend Mercury will climb higher in the sky each evening.

This chart was prepared using John Walker’s Your Sky. It shows the view to the western horizon Tuesday evening, March 15th.

On March 15th our speedy little friend will appear a couple of degrees to the right (north) of big old Jupiter. Although the two planets will appear to be very close to each other they’ll actually be about 600 million miles apart. It’s celestial smoke and mirrors.

You will need binoculars to spot reddish orange Mercury. Start watching for him this weekend about a half hour after sunset low in the evening twilight to the west. You will need binoculars for this. Then watch from evening to evening as Mercury leaps up past Jupiter. The Jovian one will soon be lost near the Sun, he sets a few minutes earlier each evening. Enjoy the show.

Before the change to Daylight time take a look around 6:45 pm local time. Once we’re on Daylight time try this around 7:45 pm. This chart was prepared using John Walker’s Your Sky.

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