© NASA/JPL/MESSENGER

Mercury at dichotomy

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Inner Planets feed

Objects: Mercury
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Mercury will reach half phase in its Sep–Oct 2020 evening apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag 0.1.

From Fairfield , this apparition will not be one of the most prominent and very difficult to observe, reaching a peak altitude of 8° above the horizon at sunset on 20 Sep 2020.

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Sep–Oct 2020 evening apparition of Mercury

01 Oct 2020 – Mercury at highest altitude in evening sky
01 Oct 2020 – Mercury at greatest elongation east
06 Oct 2020 – Mercury at dichotomy
25 Oct 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
Mercury
sets at
Altitude
at sunset
Direction
at sunset
Mag Phase
02 Sep 202019:2519:56west-0.691%
05 Sep 202019:2219:55west-0.489%
08 Sep 202019:1619:54west-0.387%
11 Sep 202019:0919:51west-0.284%
14 Sep 202019:0719:47west-0.181%
17 Sep 202019:0019:42west-0.179%
20 Sep 202018:5419:37west-0.176%
23 Sep 202018:5219:34west-0.172%
26 Sep 202018:4519:31south-west-0.068%
29 Sep 202018:3919:26south-west-0.064%
02 Oct 202018:3619:20south-west-0.059%
05 Oct 202018:3019:11south-west0.053%
08 Oct 202018:2419:04south-west0.147%
11 Oct 202018:1818:57south-west0.339%

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

23 Mar 2020 – Morning apparition
04 Jun 2020 – Evening apparition
22 Jul 2020 – Morning apparition
01 Oct 2020 – Evening apparition
10 Nov 2020 – Morning apparition
23 Jan 2021 – Evening apparition
06 Mar 2021 – 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 14h20m20s 17°25'S Virgo 7.4"
Sun 12h50m -05°21' Virgo 32'00"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 06 October 2020
Sunrise
06:54
Sunset
18:30
Twilight ends
20:02
Twilight begins
05:22

19-day old moon
Waning Gibbous

76%

19 days old

Planets
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 09:11 14:10 19:10
Venus 03:35 10:16 16:56
Moon 20:34 03:53 11:20
Mars 19:00 01:23 07:46
Jupiter 14:32 19:10 23:48
Saturn 14:55 19:38 00:22
All times shown in EDT.

Source

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

01 Oct 2020  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east
09 Nov 2020  –  Mercury at highest altitude in morning sky
10 Nov 2020  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
23 Jan 2021  –  Mercury at greatest elongation east

Image credit

© NASA/JPL/MESSENGER

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