The planets of the solar system have been parading across the sky like it’s New Year’s Day. Right now, Venus, Mars, and Saturn are in great view, while Jupiter winds down a long run of its own.
The other planet that’s visible to the unaided eye is Mercury. It’s peeking into view as well, but nowhere near as boldly as its planetary siblings. In fact, you need to be pretty far south to see it at all. It looks like a fairly bright star in the east about 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise. But it’s so low that it’s tough to pick out. It’s well to the lower left of the Moon tomorrow, and closer below the Moon on Wednesday.
Mercury is the closest of all the Sun’s planets. From our perspective tens of millions of miles farther out, Mercury never strays far from the Sun, so it’s always tough to see. At best, it’s visible for a little while before sunrise or after sunset. Most of the time, though, it’s completely lost in the Sun’s glare. And even when it does peek into view, it’s a tough target because it stays low.
Right now, the view of Mercury is pretty good if you’re in the far-southern United States. Southern Florida and Texas are good, and Hawaii is even better. Mercury pops a little straighter into the sky, so it climbs a little higher before it’s overpowered by the twilight. From the far north, though, Mercury is almost impossible to see. Luckily, though, there are still four other planets to entertain you during the nights of spring.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.