Mercury Surprises

One of the most fascinating things happens whenever I show someone the planet Mercury in the sky. Their first reaction is to be surprised at how bright it is.  Most people think of Mercury as a faraway planet, too close to the Sun to see at all. But in reality, Mercury is close to Earth, and when the angles are just right, it’s not hard to find.

Image Credit & Copyright: Miguel Claro (TWAN, Dark Sky Alqueva)

Mercury is 57 million kilometers from the Sun, more than a third of the way to Earth.  We are also much closer to Mercury than we are to Jupiter and Saturn. When we see the planets in the sky, Mercury is around magnitude -2 at it’s brightest, much brighter than most stars and the planet Saturn.

Right now is the time to see Mercury in the West after sunset.  It just reached maximum elongation (distance from the Sun) on April 18th.  And even though it’s started it’s long journey back toward the Sun, an amazing thing will happen on May 9th.

For the first time since 2006, Mercury will transit the Sun, meaning it was cross the Sun’s disk.  From Toronto it will last from about 7:15am to 3pm, with the midpoint around 11am.

It’s going to be a good couple of weeks for Mercury, and with the nicer weather, now is the best time to see it in it’s glory.

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