If you get a chance to get up early this week you’ll get the privilege of seeing the two innermost planets in the solar system at their easiest and brightest to spot in our skies. Look towards the low eastern horizon and the first to catch your eye will be the brightest star-like object in the morning – planet Venus. To its lower left is elusive Mercury. This little guy is much more of a challenge because it never moves very far from the glare of the Sun. In fact both Venus and Mercury are sometimes known as the Morning Star or Evening Star because their orbits hug the Sun so tightly, they are always hanging around the Sun at sunrise or sunset. This also means that that you have a limited window of opportunity to see them in the morning because they rise only an hour or so before the Sun. After which you will probably lose sight of Mercury at first, because it is the fainter of the two, and then Venus later in the morning. If you have a small telescope lying around then take a peek at these little worlds. They will both look like miniature versions of the quarter Moon (see skychart above). This phase appearance is caused by the alignment of the planets, in relation to both the Sun and Earth.
And if you are wondering, Venus lies in the constellation Aries, the ram, while Mercury is in Taurus, the bull.The constellations themselves however will be washed out by the dawn. to see their member stars you will need a binocular. As a side challenge try and see how long you can keep sight of Venus after the Sun rises. Binoculars will help you track it, but for fun see if you can follow Venus well into the morning. Venus is bright enough to shine through the blue skies, but you have to know exactly where to look, otherwise its pinpoint of light is invisible.
Tags: Aries, Mercury, Taurus, Venus
Posted in Constellations, Planets, Solar System | 217 Comments »