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Conjunction of Mercury and the Moon

27 Jan 2014, 07:01 UTC
Conjunction of Mercury and the Moon
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Date: January 31 Time: 6:00 pm (just after sunset is the time to start hunting) Place: the western sky
Mercury is a tough planet to spot, but on January 31 the young Crescent Moon can help you find it. The Sun will set around 6 pm, and as the sky slowly darkens, your chances of finding Mercury improve. Of course, as the Sun sets, so does Mercury, so the “sweet spot” for finding it depends on the clarity of your sky, and an unobstructed view of the western horizon. For most northern hemisphere observers, that “sweet spot” will occur around 6:30 pm, at which time Mercury will be about 10° above the horizon.
Mercury’s orbit is tilted by 7° with respect to Earth’s orbit. That, as well as the latitude from which you observe, affects the tilt of Mercury’s orbit with respect to your horizon. In this case (for northern hemisphere observers) the orbit will be nearly perpendicular to the horizon. Sometimes the orbit is more parallel to the horizon, in which case Mercury sets around the same time as the Sun, making it nearly impossible to see. On Jan 31, the tilt is nearly optimal for spotting Mercury.
Visually, ...

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