© NASA/JPL/MESSENGER

Mercury at greatest brightness

Thu, 24 Mar 2016 at05:20 EDT(665 days ago)
09:20 UTC

Dominic Ford, Editor
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Ashburn
The sky at

In the southern hemisphere Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -2.1.

From Ashburn (click to change) however, it will not be readily observable since it will be very close to the Sun, at a separation of only 1° from it.

Mercury's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time.

It is observable only for a few days each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation.

Mercury's brightness

Mercury's brightness depends on two factors: its closeness to the Earth, and its phase. Its phase varies depending on its position relative to the Earth. When it passes between the Earth and Sun, for example, the side that is turned towards the Earth is entirely unilluminated, like a new moon.

Conversely, when it lies opposite to the Earth in its orbit, passing almost behind the Sun, it appears fully illuminated, like a full moon. However, at this time it is also at its most distant from the Earth, so it is actually fainter than at other times.

Mercury reaches its brightest when it is still a crescent – with less than half of its disk illuminated. This is because it is much closer to the Earth during its crescent phases than at other times.

As a result, during evening apparitions, Mercury reaches maximum brightness a few days after it is at greatest separation from the Sun, which always coincides with it showing half-phase (dichotomy).

Conversely, during morning apparitions, Mercury reaches maximum brightness a few days before it is at greatest separation from the Sun.

Mercury in coming weeks

The key moments in this apparition of Mercury are as follows:

23 Mar 2016 15:58 EDT – Mercury at superior solar conjunction
24 Mar 2016 05:20 EDT – Mercury at greatest brightness
15 Apr 2016 03:57 EDT – Mercury at dichotomy
18 Apr 2016 07:34 EDT – Mercury at greatest elongation east

Over coming weeks, the distance between Mercury and the Sun will decrease each night as it sinks back into the Sun's glare. The table below lists how long Mercury will remain up after sunset each night; all times are given in Ashburn local time.

Date Sun
sets at
Mercury
sets at
Altitude of Mercury
at sunset
Direction of Mercury
at sunset
17 Mar 201619:1418:44-6°west
24 Mar 201619:2119:26west
31 Mar 201619:2820:11west
07 Apr 201619:3420:5413°west
14 Apr 201619:4121:2518°west
21 Apr 201619:4821:3518°west
28 Apr 201619:5521:1814°west
05 May 201620:0120:37west
12 May 201620:0819:44-4°north-west
19 May 201620:1418:58-13°north-west
26 May 201620:2018:30-19°north-west

A graph of the brightness of Mercury is available here.

Mercury's position

The coordinates of Mercury when it reaches greatest brightness will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Angular Size
Mercury 00h18m20s +00°40' Pisces 5.0"
Sun 00h14m +01°34' Pisces 32'04"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 24 March 2016
Sunrise 07:05
Sunset 19:24
Twilight ends
20:54
Twilight begins
05:35

15-day old moon
Age of Moon
15 days

All times shown in EDT.
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:14 13:20 19:26
Venus 06:26 12:06 17:45
Moon 20:48 01:47 07:42
Mars 00:22 05:15 10:09
Jupiter 17:42 00:12 06:38
Saturn 01:10 06:01 10:52

Warning

Never attempt to point a pair of binoculars or a telescope at an object close to the Sun. Doing so may result in immediate and permanent blindness.

Source

The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE405 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

06 Feb 2016, 22:30 EST  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
18 Apr 2016, 07:34 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
09 May 2016, 07:12 EDT  –  Transit of Mercury
05 Jun 2016, 08:43 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west

Image credit

© NASA/JPL/MESSENGER

Ashburn

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Longitude:
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39.04°N
77.49°W
EST

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