© NASA/JPL/MESSENGER

Mercury at dichotomy

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Inner Planets feed

Objects: Mercury
Please wait
Loading 0/4
Click and drag to rotate
Mouse wheel to zoom in/out
Touch with mouse to dismiss
The sky at

Mercury will reach half phase in its Oct–Dec 2020 morning apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -0.5.

From Fairfield , this apparition will be exceptionally well placed but tricky to observe, reaching a peak altitude of 18° above the horizon at sunrise on 10 Nov 2020.

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

Oct–Dec 2020 morning apparition of Mercury

25 Oct 2020 – Mercury at inferior solar conjunction
08 Nov 2020 – Mercury at dichotomy
09 Nov 2020 – Mercury at highest altitude in morning sky
10 Nov 2020 – Mercury at greatest elongation west
19 Dec 2020 – Mercury at superior solar conjunction

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

Date Sun
rises at
Mercury
rises at
Altitude
at sunrise
Direction
at sunrise
Mag Phase
29 Oct 202007:2106:41east3.54%
01 Nov 202006:2505:1711°east1.515%
04 Nov 202006:2904:5915°south-east0.329%
07 Nov 202006:3204:5217°south-east-0.344%
10 Nov 202006:3704:5318°south-east-0.657%
13 Nov 202006:3704:5817°south-east-0.768%
16 Nov 202006:4105:0816°south-east-0.776%
19 Nov 202006:4605:1815°south-east-0.783%
22 Nov 202006:5005:2713°south-east-0.787%
25 Nov 202006:5105:4111°south-east-0.791%
28 Nov 202006:5605:51south-east-0.794%
01 Dec 202007:0106:07south-east-0.896%
04 Dec 202007:0206:19south-east-0.897%
07 Dec 202007:0706:31south-east-0.998%

Mercury will brighten rapidly at the start of its morning apparition as it emerges from inferior conjunction. Prior to its apparition, it passed between the Earth and Sun, at which time it had its unilluminated side turned towards the Earth and so appeared as a thin, barely illuminated crescent. As the apparition proceeds, this crescent waxes and becomes gibbous.

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 after it reaches its highest point in the sky – when it will show a gibbous phase – than in the days beforehand.

Altitude of Mercury at sunrise

A graph of the phase of Mercury is available here.

Apparitions of Mercury

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
17 May 2021 – Evening 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 13h45m40s -08°32' Virgo 7.2"
Sun 14h55m -16°43' Libra 32'17"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 08 November 2020
Sunrise
06:33
Sunset
16:41
Twilight ends
18:17
Twilight begins
04:57

23-day old moon
Waning Crescent

49%

23 days old

Planets
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 04:54 10:27 16:00
Venus 03:42 09:33 15:23
Moon 23:28 05:54 13:24
Mars 15:17 21:37 03:57
Jupiter 11:35 16:15 20:55
Saturn 11:49 16:33 21:17
All times shown in EST.

Warning

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.

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

08 Nov 2020  –  Mercury at dichotomy
09 Nov 2020  –  Mercury at highest altitude in morning sky
10 Nov 2020  –  Mercury at greatest elongation west
15 Dec 2020  –  Mercury at aphelion

Image credit

© NASA/JPL/MESSENGER

Share

Follow

Fairfield

Latitude:
Longitude:
Timezone:

41.14°N
73.26°W
EDT

Color scheme