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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Mercury Rising

By Phil Plait

I have a decent view to the southwest, where the Sun is setting these days. If it’s clear, I always take a look to see what’s there as the sky darkens. Venus is pretty bright right now, and it shines brilliantly in that direction.

Tiny, fainter Mercury is there too, just below its brighter sister, but it can be tougher to spot if there’s haze, clouds, or—in my case—mountains in the way. I’ve seen it a few times this past week, but I wanted to photograph it. On Friday night (Jan. 2) I took my camera outside and fired off a few shots of Venus just after sunset.

I went back inside because it was cold and vowed to go back out in 10 minutes to try to get Mercury as well once it got dark … and then wound up getting tied up doing something else. By the time I got outside, Mercury had set. Bummer! But then I looked at the photos I did take, and hey! There’s Mercury!

I fiddled a bit with the contrast and brightness to bring Mercury out, but that’s it. Venus is obvious enough top center of the photo, and Mercury is very nearly dead center. I have an annotated version with arrows pointing to both planets if you need it. I also have a larger, higher-res version that has slightly more saturated colors, and they’re both easier to see in it as well.

Mind you, I just took a bunch of pictures with different exposure times; nothing fancy. If you have a nice foreground it’s not too hard to take nice shots. Even inexpensive digital cameras can take pretty nice shots; if you have one, now is the time to try! Mercury will pass very close to Venus on Jan. 10, so you have a few days to practice, too.

As an aside, I wrote about Mercury and Venus in the sky together at The blogs and some other features there are subscription only (ad-free for $1.50/week), but the site also has free space and astronomy news written by lots of great folks, so it’s a good place to go for info. </plug>

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