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Mercury and Venus

November 11, 2011

The Sun’s two closest planets are teaming up in the early evening twilight. They’re quite low in the southwest at sunset, and they set a bit more than an hour later, so the viewing window is short.

The brighter of the two is Venus, the “evening star.” It’s the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon, so it stands out. As long as you have a clear horizon, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. In fact, the only trouble you may have is convincing yourself that it’s really an astronomical object, and not an approaching airplane.

Look just to the lower left of Venus, by about the width of a finger held at arm’s length, for the other planet, Mercury. It’s only a few percent as bright as Venus, and it’s a little lower in the sky, so it’s tough to pick out on its own. But with Venus as a guiding light, you should be able to find it.

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, so it never moves far from the Sun in our sky. As a result, it’s seldom visible for more than an hour or two after sunset or before sunrise. Right now, Mercury is approaching its farthest point from the Sun for its current evening appearance.

Venus is the Sun’s second-closest planet. It’s about twice as far from the Sun as Mercury is, so we generally get a few hours to enjoy it at a time. In fact, over the next few months Venus will move farther from the Sun as seen from Earth — the third planet out, by the way — making the view even better.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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