April 1, 2010, 45 minutes after sunset

April 1, 2010, 45 minutes after sunset

Have you ever seen Mercury? Most people haven’t. Impress your friends and family by pointing out Mercury to them during the next week—the best time this entire year to see this elusive planet in the evening sky.

First, find Venus. It’s that very bright point of light low in the west soon after sunset.

Next, look for Mercury. It’s to the lower right of Venus and much dimmer. For the next ten days, these two planets appear to lie within just a few degrees of each other (less than half the width of your fist held at arm’s length).

For the best chance of identifying Mercury, go out about 45 minutes after sunset in the next week (try ~8:20-8:30 p.m. for the Triangle area). You’ll need clear skies and a view of the western horizon that is as building- and tree-free as you can manage.

If you look too soon after sunset, you may have trouble picking out the planet in the still-bright sky. Look too late, and Mercury will have dropped below the western horizon (or at least behind all those trees in your neighborhood). Later in April, Mercury disappears altogether from the evening sky.

Please join Morehead at our next skywatching session at Jordan Lake on April 17, 2010. We’ll see Mercury and Venus near the beginning. Mars and Saturn will also be visible. Bring your friends and family!

Amy Sayle is Morehead's Science 360 manager. She looks forward to helping people learn to identify planets and stars in Morehead's Beginning Skywatching course for adults, starting April 7. To register online, go to moreheadplanetarium.org, click Events & Activities, then Adult Classes.



2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips on spotting Mercury! Any tips on places in the Triangle with an unobstructed view of the western horizon?


    Robin Smith



  2. All of our trees can make finding a good view of the horizon tricky. Some ideas: look across a lake*, or get someone to drive you west on a highway (so you, the passenger, can look at the open view–I don’t recommend stargazing for the driver!). Or you might just walk around your neighborhood and try different viewpoints. If you go out within 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury shouldn’t be too terribly low. (*If you can come to Morehead’s skywatching session on Saturday night, April 17, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area at Jordan Lake, you’ll see a nice view toward the west.)


    Amy Sayle



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