Mars and Mercury at conjunction on Feb 8

Feb 3

Written by:
2/3/2013 11:34 PM  RssIcon

On February 8, around 30 to 45 minutes after sunset, look for the planets of Mercury and Mars very low to the horizon.  Spotting planets in this area of sky takes a bit of time, patience, and perhaps binoculars, but it can be done if your skies are very clear and transparent, and the view to the west is unobstructed.  Mars is nearly across the solar system from Earth, past the Sun, while Mercury is moving its way towards inferior conjunction, which will place it between the Earth and Sun early next month.  

Start looking for this duo about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset.  They will appear in the twilight glow where the Sun's light is still bright as it sets towards the west.  If you can see the stars of the Great Square of Pegasus, they can help guide you to finding the planets.  This "square" is nearly 15 degrees per side (learn how to measure distance in the sky, here), and will be well above Mercury and Mars' location as the sun is going down.  It should appear more like a tilted-square, similar to a baseball diamond.  Following a line from Alpheratz (second base) through Markab (home plate), note that spot on the horizon.  Now measure about 10 degrees south (left) from there, and keeping focusing there.  Scanning with binoculars may help.  

Mercury will be the brighter of the two, with Mars being dimmer and slightly lower.  Detail will be difficult to see on either one, due to their low location in the sky, as well as their distance and small size right now.  With a telescope at sufficient magnification, Mercury may display a "gibbous" phase like our Moon does.

What can you see?  Take a look on the 8th, and share your comments below.

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.