Can You Find Mercury
The Planet Closest To The Sun

mercury planet 2

Mercury the planet of incredible speed and swiftness. Because of it's closeness to the sun Mercury is able to complete a year before it completes a day.

The planet is so fast it circles the sun in about 88 Earth days, sunrise to sunrise on Mercury though is about 176 Earth days.

Unfortunately, this closeness is what makes viewing Mercury so hard. Viewed from Earth you are always looking towards the sun and Mercury tends to get lost in the glare.

Because of this Mercury is only visible for a short time either just before sunrise or just after sunset, depending on where it is in its orbit.

The best time to hunt for Mercury is when it is near greatest elongation from the Sun, when the distance between the two in our sky is farthest. Greatest elongations occur often.

The spring and early summer prove to be the best times of year for observers in the Northern Hemisphere during evening elongations, while the fall and early winter are best in the early morning.

The exact opposite is true from the Southern Hemisphere. Even then, binoculars and finder scopes can help isolate the planet.

In a telescope, Mercury the planet appears as a tiny gray disk. Like Venus and the Moon,it goes through different phases

The apparent size of its disk varies with phase. Because Mercury hugs so close to the horizon, the disk usually shimmers from atmospheric turbulence.

A better image can be obtained when the planet is higher in the sky, during evening or morning twilight, even though the contrast won't be as good.

mercury planet

Mercury is brightest as seen from Earth when it is at a gibbous phase. This is between either quarter phase and full.

Although the planet is further away from Earth when it is gibbous than when it is a crescent, the greater illuminated area visible more than compensates for the greater distance.

The opposite is true for Venus the planet which appears brightest when it is a thin crescent. Because it is much closer to Earth than when gibbous.

Elongations occur when an inner planet's position, in its orbital path, is at tangent to the view from Earth.

Because these inner planets are inside the Earth's orbit their positions as viewed from the Earth are never very far from the position of the Sun.

When a planet is at Elongation, it is furthest from the Sun as viewed from Earth, so it's view is best at that point.

There are two kinds of Elongations: The Eastern Elongation occurs when the planet is in the evening sky and the Western Elongation Occurs when a planet is in the morning sky.

Views Of Mercury

mercury planet

Because Mercury is an inner planet it will never resolve to a whole disk in a telescope. When Mercury is in the position to be "Full" it is located on the far side of the Sun relative to the Earth.

When viewing Mercury the planet will appear as a crescent or gibbous shape. It will appear pinkish with gray markings.

Mercury’s apparent magnitude varies between about −2.3, which is brighter than Sirius, and 5.7.

Mercury is similar in appearance to the Moon: it is heavily cratered with regions of smooth plains, has no natural satellites or moons of its own and no substantial atmosphere.

Greek astronomers believed the planet to be two separate objects: one visible only at sunrise, which they called Apollo; the other visible only at sunset, which they called Hermes.

Mercury is only about one-third the size of the Earth. It is smaller than any other planet. Mercury is the second most dense planet after Earth.

The apparent motion of objects in the sky due to the rotation of the Earth is 15 degrees per hour.

Mercury the planet is not visible, due to the brightness of the Sun until 45 minutes after sunset or before sunrise. At the very best position Mercury would only be visible about 1 hour and 7 minutes for a given day.

mercury the planet to order of the planets
constellations and backyard stargazing