Check out the innermost planet in the solar system with the unaided eye as it rises to its best morning showing in months. Little Mercury will be at its greatest elongation – or farthest away from the Sun it can get from our vantage point on January 9, 2011. This means that the planet will be the easiest to spot, especially for casual skywatchers because it will be higher up in the eastern sky, away from the glare of the rising Sun. Mercury is quite a tricky target to obseve, especially for beginner stargazers because it is never far away from the Sun. It is also a small planet, only one-and-a-half times larger than our own moon and orbits our star in just 3 months.
If you face towards the eastern sky at dawn over the course of the next week, you get a three-for-one planetary deal with Venus, Mercury and Saturn. The three planets will actually line up diagonally in the sky this weekend. Venus will be the brightest of the trio and so the easiest to spot.
On January 9th, Sunday, Mercury will officially be at greatest elongation west at 23 degrees- meaning it will be about 46 full moon disks away from the Sun in the sky. This elongation for Mercury is not the best ever – it can be as much as 27 degrees.
Here is a photo I took of Mercury in the evening sky in 2009.
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