September 29, 2016
by William J. Bechaver
EARTH — For those of you who missed out on the most difficult of planet sightings earlier in the month, dread not. The planets continue to go around, and opportunities will continue to present themselves for the obstinate observer.
Each situation is unique, so that keeps viewing the more difficult planets exciting. This week, we will have our next golden opportunity to view the most difficult, the ever-evasive Mercury.
Last time we saw the little devil was low in the evening sky. But it flies around the sun so swiftly, making a complete orbit in a mere 88 days, it’s never in the same spot for long. That’s why it’s called Mercury, for its swiftness of travel on its fleet winged feet. This time, it’s making its appearance in the early morning hours. About an hour before sunrise, go out and look to the eastern horizon.
So, on the early morning of Wednesday, September 28, Mercury was the highest in the morning sky it will get for this year. It’s awfully difficult to find on its own, amid the sun’s glare. But on Friday morning, go out. The fine crescent moon will be less than a degree from the minuscule planet. If you can find the fine crescent in the glare, look to the left of it, and see if you can spot the amazing Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.
Next week, though a little lower, we will have a better chance to find tiny Mercury, and we will be guided by the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Look for that unusual conjunction as mighty Jupiter makes its way around the far side of the sun and into the morning sky once again to join Mercury before sunrise.
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