Mercury at dichotomy

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Inner Planets feed

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The sky at

In the southern hemisphere Mercury will be well placed for observation in the dawn sky, shining brightly at mag -0.0.

From Ashburn however, it will not be observable – it will reach its highest point in the sky during daytime and will be no higher than 5° above the horizon at dawn.

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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 phase

Mercury's 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 shows an intermediate half phase – called dichotomy – at roughly the same moment that it appears furthest from the Sun, at greatest elongation. The exact times of the two events may differ by a few hours, only because Mercury's orbit is not quite perfectly aligned with the ecliptic.

Mercury in coming weeks

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

05 Jun 2016 08:43 EDT – Mercury at greatest elongation west
11 Jun 2016 06:01 EDT – Mercury at dichotomy
06 Jul 2016 23:11 EDT – Mercury at superior solar conjunction

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 before sunrise Mercury will rise each night; all times are given in Ashburn local time.

Date Sun
sets at
rises at
Altitude of Mercury
at sunrise
Direction of Mercury
at sunrise
04 Jun 201605:4304:4011°north-west
11 Jun 201605:4204:3411°north-west
18 Jun 201605:4204:3611°north-west
25 Jun 201605:4404:51north-west
02 Jul 201605:4705:21north-west
09 Jul 201605:5106:02-2°north-west
16 Jul 201605:5606:47-8°west
23 Jul 201606:0107:27-15°west
30 Jul 201606:0707:59-19°west
06 Aug 201606:1308:24-24°west
13 Aug 201606:2008:40-26°west

A graph of the phase of Mercury is available here.

Mercury's position

The coordinates of Mercury when it reaches dichotomy will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Angular Size
Mercury 03h44m30s +16°46' Taurus 7.2"
Sun 05h19m +23°06' Taurus 31'30"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 11 June 2016
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

6-day old moon
Waxing Crescent


6 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 04:34 11:34 18:34
Venus 05:48 13:14 20:39
Moon 12:37 18:58 00:46
Mars 18:24 23:14 04:10
Jupiter 12:26 18:52 01:22
Saturn 19:37 00:34 05:27
All times shown in EDT.


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

05 Jun 2016, 08:43 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
16 Aug 2016, 11:19 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
28 Sep 2016, 13:07 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
11 Dec 2016, 02:45 EST  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east

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