Mercury at greatest elongation east

Dominic Ford, Editor
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The sky at

Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -0.5.

From Fairfield, it will be difficult to observe as it will appear no higher than 13° above the horizon. It will become visible at around 18:01 (EST) as the dusk sky fades, 13° above your western horizon. It will then sink towards the horizon, setting 1 hour and 34 minutes after the Sun at 19:12.

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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.

These apparitions take place alternately in the morning and evening skies, depending whether Mercury lies to the east of the Sun or to the west.

When it lies to the east, it rises and sets a short time after the Sun and is visible in early evening twilight. When it lies to the west of the Sun, it rises and sets a short time before the Sun and is visible shortly before sunrise.

On this occasion, it lies 18° to the Sun's east.

Mercury in coming weeks

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

29 Jan 2019 21:36 EST – Mercury at superior solar conjunction
26 Feb 2019 10:49 EST – Mercury at dichotomy
26 Feb 2019 16:29 EST – Mercury at greatest elongation east
14 Mar 2019 21:42 EDT – Mercury at inferior solar conjunction

After greatest elongation, 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 Fairfield local time.

Date Sun
sets at
sets at
Altitude of Mercury
at sunset
Direction of Mercury
at sunset
19 Feb 201917:2618:4713°west
26 Feb 201917:3419:1116°west
05 Mar 201917:4219:0414°west
12 Mar 201918:5019:21west
19 Mar 201918:5818:20-6°west
26 Mar 201919:0617:31-17°west
02 Apr 201919:1317:06-24°west
09 Apr 201919:2117:00-27°west
16 Apr 201919:2817:09-26°west
23 Apr 201919:3517:27-24°north-west
30 Apr 201919:4317:55-20°north-west

A graph of the angular separation of Mercury from the Sun around the time of greatest elongation is available here.

Mercury's position

The position of Mercury when it reaches greatest elongation will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Mercury 23h42m10s -00°19' Pisces -0.5 7.2"
Sun 22h37m -08°40' Aquarius -26.7 32'18"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

Seasonal effects

At each apparition, Mercury reaches a similar separation from the Sun – around 18–28°. This distance is set by the geometry of how big Mercury's orbit is, and how far away it is from the Earth.

Nonetheless, some times of the year are more favourable for viewing Mercury than others.

It appears most favourably in the evening sky around the time of the local spring equinox, and most favourably in the morning sky around the local autumn equinox.

These dates are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres, such that a good apparition in one hemisphere will not be easily observable from the other.

This is comes about because Mercury always lies close to the line of the ecliptic, shown in yellow in the planetarium above. This is the line through the zodiacal constellations that the Sun follows through the year, and marks the flat plane in space in which all of the planets circle the Sun.

When Mercury remains in the sky for a few hours after the Sun has set, its altitude above the horizon depends on two factors.

One is its angular separation from the Sun. But equally important is how steeply the line of the ecliptic is inclined to the horizon.

If Mercury is widely separated from the Sun along the ecliptic, this may not translate into a high altitude if the ecliptic meets the horizon at a very shallow angle, running almost parallel to it.

Conversely, if the ecliptic is almost perpendicular to the horizon, a much smaller separation from the Sun may place Mercury higher in the sky.

The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at Fairfield varies between 72° (sunset at the spring equinox) and 25° (sunset at the autumn equinox). On February 26, the ecliptic is inclined at 69° to the western sunset horizon, as shown by the yellow line in the planetarium view above, meaning that on this occasion Mercury is very favourably placed for viewing from Fairfield.

The sky on 26 February 2019
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

22-day old moon
Waning Crescent


22 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:08 13:09 19:11
Venus 04:30 09:19 14:09
Moon 00:52 05:52 10:51
Mars 08:53 15:49 22:46
Jupiter 02:12 06:51 11:29
Saturn 04:01 08:43 13:24
All times shown in EST.


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.


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

26 Feb 2019, 16:29 EST  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
11 Apr 2019, 11:37 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
23 Jun 2019, 20:48 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
09 Aug 2019, 23:26 EDT  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west

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