Mercury at greatest brightness

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 at12:45 EST(406 days ago)
17:45 UTC

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 evening sky, shining brightly at mag -0.5.

From Ashburn (click to change) however, it will not be observable – it will reach its highest point in the sky during daytime and will be no higher than 7° above the horizon at dusk.

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:

08 Dec 2016 12:45 EST – Mercury at greatest brightness
11 Dec 2016 02:45 EST – Mercury at greatest elongation east
14 Dec 2016 11:40 EST – Mercury at dichotomy
28 Dec 2016 13:41 EST – Mercury at inferior 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 Mercury will remain up after sunset each night; all times are given in Ashburn local time.

Date Sun
sets at
sets at
Altitude of Mercury
at sunset
Direction of Mercury
at sunset
01 Dec 201616:4317:48south-west
08 Dec 201616:4218:0311°south-west
15 Dec 201616:4418:0912°south-west
22 Dec 201616:4617:49south-west
29 Dec 201616:5116:53south-west
05 Jan 201716:5615:58-10°west
12 Jan 201717:0315:30-17°west
19 Jan 201717:1115:23-20°west
26 Jan 201717:1915:28-21°west
02 Feb 201717:2715:43-19°west
09 Feb 201717:3516:04-17°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 18h32m20s -25°25' Sagittarius 6.3"
Sun 17h02m -22°47' Ophiuchus 32'28"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 08 December 2016
Sunrise 07:15
Sunset 16:46
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

9-day old moon
Age of Moon
9 days

All times shown in EST.
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 08:57 13:30 18:03
Venus 10:27 15:13 19:59
Moon 13:25 19:30 00:29
Mars 11:24 16:36 21:47
Jupiter 02:22 08:06 13:50
Saturn 07:20 12:08 16:56


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

28 Sep 2016, 13:07 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
11 Dec 2016, 02:45 EST  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
19 Jan 2017, 08:45 EST  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
01 Apr 2017, 01:52 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east

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