Mercury at dichotomy

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Inner Planets feed

Objects: Mercury
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Mercury will reach half phase in its Jan–Feb 2020 evening apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -0.6.

From Fairfield , this apparition will be well placed but tricky to observe, reaching a peak altitude of 15° above the horizon at sunset on 12 Feb 2020.

Begin typing the name of a town near to you, and then select the town from the list of options which appear below.

Jan–Feb 2020 evening apparition of Mercury

10 Jan 2020 – Mercury at superior solar conjunction
10 Feb 2020 – Mercury at greatest elongation east
10 Feb 2020 – Mercury at dichotomy
11 Feb 2020 – Mercury at highest altitude in evening sky
25 Feb 2020 – Mercury at inferior solar conjunction

The table below lists the altitude of Mercury at sunset over the course of the apparition. All times are given in Fairfield local time.

Date Sun
sets at
sets at
at sunset
at sunset
Mag Phase
25 Jan 202016:5917:39south-west-1.195%
28 Jan 202017:0317:55south-west-1.091%
31 Jan 202017:0718:1010°south-west-1.086%
03 Feb 202017:1118:2412°south-west-1.079%
06 Feb 202017:1418:3714°south-west-0.970%
09 Feb 202017:1818:4615°south-west-0.758%
12 Feb 202017:2218:5015°south-west-0.444%
15 Feb 202017:2618:4914°west0.230%
18 Feb 202017:2918:3912°west1.217%
21 Feb 202017:3318:21west2.87%

Mercury will fade rapidly towards the end of the apparition as it heads towards inferior conjunction, when it will pass between the Earth and Sun. At inferior conjunction, the planet turns its unilluminated side towards the Earth, and so appears as a thin, barely illuminated crescent.

Since Mercury can only ever be observed in twilight, it is particularly difficult to find when it is in a thin crescent phase. Thus, it will be significantly easier to see in the days before it reaches its highest point in the sky than in the days after.

Altitude of Mercury at sunset

A graph of the phase of Mercury is available here.

Apparitions of Mercury

09 Aug 2019 – Morning apparition
19 Oct 2019 – Evening apparition
28 Nov 2019 – Morning apparition
10 Feb 2020 – Evening apparition
23 Mar 2020 – Morning apparition
04 Jun 2020 – Evening apparition
22 Jul 2020 – Morning apparition

Observing Mercury

Mercury's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is lost in the Sun's glare much of the time.

It is observable for only a few weeks each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation. These apparitions repeat roughly once every 3–4 months.

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 days, only because Mercury's orbit is not quite perfectly aligned with the ecliptic.

Mercury's position

The coordinates of Mercury when it reaches dichotomy will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Angular Size
Mercury 22h43m20s 7°11'S Aquarius 7.2"
Sun 21h35m -14°21' Capricornus 32'25"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 10 Feb 2020

The sky on 10 February 2020
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

17-day old moon
Waning Gibbous


17 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:37 13:14 18:51
Venus 08:37 14:43 20:49
Moon 17:49 01:02 08:04
Mars 03:39 08:14 12:48
Jupiter 05:00 09:39 14:18
Saturn 05:38 10:23 15:08
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 DE430 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

10 Feb 2020  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
11 Feb 2020  –  Mercury at highest altitude in evening sky
16 Mar 2020  –  Mercury at highest altitude in morning sky
23 Mar 2020  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west

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