Waing crescent Moon next to Venus – Inverness
After blazing in the NW after sunset during the depths of lockdown, Venus has now completed its passage in front of the Sun (from our perspective) and now slowly emerging as a morning apparition.
At the moment you’ll need to rise very early to catch it due to very bright skies – binoculars or a telescope might be needed.
The morning of the 19th June is particularly special as both Venus and the wafer thin crescent Moon will sit very close to each other. In fact, later the same morning the Moon will occult (hide) Venus for around an hour.
A rare opportunity to observe a Venus and Mercury conjunction over the next few days.
From tonight (Monday) Mercury will appear progressively closer to Venus in the NW sky after sunset, leading to conjunction on Thursday and Friday night. An excellent chance to see Mercury in binoculars or observe the phase of both planets in a garden telescope.
Mercury is much dimmer and more challenging to see than Venus so my advice is to use Venus as a reference for finding Mercury in your binoculars or telescope. Those, like myself, living in the north of Scotland might need to wait a little longer after sunset to see the planets (due to pervading daylight). This makes it more of a challenge as both planets will be closer to the horizon by then.
Moreover, as both planets will only be around 10 degrees above the horizon at conjunction you’ll need to get away from tall trees or buildings that might obscure your view NW. Hopefully those pesky clouds stay away too.
Clear skies and good luck.
This is how low Mercury grazes the horizon at the moment. A superb shot of Venus and Mercury from Will Cheung this evening.
If you want to sight Mercury for yourself the best chance is right now in the early evenings just after sunset. Using Venus as a guide, scan the low horizon with binoculars or naked eye. An unobstructed horizon like the one in the picture above is essential.
“Thou lingering star, with less’ning ray,
That lov’st to greet the early morn…”
After last night I’m convinced Rabbie Burns did all his stargazing with a delicious wrap of haggis in hand.
Haggis hand warmers and Clelland’s address from last night’s sellout Dark Sky Burns event. Big thanks to the Abriachan team for the Burn’s supper fare.
Due to inclement skies the astronomy moved indoors I got to talk in some detail about the planet Venus and its harsh environment. A fascinating place that surely deserves more attention in the future, not least for its potential to harbour microbial life in its more clement upper atmosphere.
Why not try looking at Venus through a telescope or a pair of stabalised binoculars? You should be able to make out its phase, just as Galileo did when he first gazed up at it back in 1610.
Have you ever seen the planet Mercury with your own eyes? It’s notoriously difficult to catch being situated so close to the Sun and often hard to pinpoint. You’ll only ever see it as a tiny disc in binoculars, very close to sunrise or sunset.
Over the next couple of days, centred on the Dec 21st solstice, there’s a unique opportunity to see Mercury as it forms a conjunction with bright Jupiter low in the south east in morning skies.
You’ll need a good unobstructed horizon to the SE to catch it. Use Venus as a guide to first find Jupiter, then look through your binoculars and you should see Mercury sitting above.
The window is pretty narrow, from around 7.30pm to 8.30pm. The longer you wait the higher Mercury will rise but the brighter the sky, as the Sun rises.
Good luck and clear skies.
Mercury through a 10 inch telescope
The planet Venus is a brilliant morning star at the moment. Catch it rising in the south east ahead of the Sun between 5.30am and 7.30am.
With keen eyesight and binoculars you should be able to discern Venus’s phase, currently a beautiful crescent. A telescope will make this much clearer as demonstrated by this video footage I shot last year, when Venus was ‘the evening star’.
Over the month of November Venus will get brighter as its phase waxes from a thin crescent to a 25% illuminated disc at month end. Despite this brightening Venus is actually travelling away from us and after December 2nd its brightness will begin to diminish as it pulls further away from earth and its disc size shrinks .
Once Venus passes behind the Sun it will eventually reappear as an evening star around mid August 2019.
Heavily cratered Mercury
If you have flat and unobstructed views towards the south west there’s a chance of observing one of the most elusive planets this evening – Mercury.
Mercury is hard to see because it orbits so close to the sun, meaning it’s usually lost in the glare of our parent star.
However the planet is currently at its maximum eastern elongation from the Sun, so there’s a small window of opportunity to spot Mercury just after sunset low in the south west. Grab a pair of binoculars and see if you get lucky.
For us high northern latitude observers it’s a tough ask due to the currently flat orientation of the ecliptic, but even if you don’t see Mercury you should catch Saturn sitting just a little higher on the horizon.
Mercury goes through several peak elongations from east to west during a year, providing alternating opportunities to see the planet in pre-dawn or evening skies
Maximum eastern elongation
Despite being closest to the sun, Mercury isn’t the planet with the highest temperatures – that prize goes to Venus with its thick carbon dioxide cloud base. This is because Mercury has no atmosphere to trap or distribute heat. If you were able to stand on Mercury, your daytime temperatures would be a blistering 427C. However, if you hid in the shadow of a large crater or travelled into the dark half of Mercury, temperatures would plummet to a freezing -173C! Again, due to a lack of atmosphere to smooth out the temperature extremes.