Early tomorrow morning (Thursday, October 8th) will be a good time to spot a rarely seen planet—Mercury.
About 45 minutes before sunrise, look for Mercury low in the east and hanging out just a smidgen below and to the right of Saturn. You’ll need an unobstructed horizon because even at its best placement in the sky, Mercury never appears far from the Sun.
Mercury is not only rarely seen by humans, it hasn’t been seen much by our spacecraft either. NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which recently flew by the planet, is only the second to visit Mercury, and in March 2011, it will be the first to orbit it. Mercury’s first visitor, Mariner 10, flew by the planet in 1974-75.
The scientific goals of the MESSENGER mission include answering questions such as why is Mercury so dense and what is its geological history and the nature of its magnetic field. You can learn more about this mission at NASA’s MESSENGER Web site.
Amy Sayle is Morehead's Science 360 project manager. She's considering setting her alarm clock for 6:30 a.m. to see Mercury.