As the arc of dawn swelled in the eastern sky, we thought we were done observing. Jim, Eric, Greg and I had come to this dark place Sunday morning to look for comets in our telescopes. Clouds were causing trouble, but we exploited every starry hole we could find, eventually adding Jupiter, Mars and double stars to our list.
Then Mercury showed up. Sure enough, below Spica in Virgo, a tiny “star” winked between cloud banks barely bright enough to see with the naked eye. Binoculars made quick work of it, and through the telescope we saw a thick crescent made gooey by atmospheric turbulence.
Mercury enters a traffic jam of early dawn sights: comets ISON, Lovejoy, Encke and the planets Mars and Jupiter. Any more and I think I’ll bust. But there will be more. Much more. As Comet ISON speeds sunward toward its close with our star on Nov. 28, it will join Mercury and the planet Saturn. Once ISON’s departed the scene, Mercury and Saturn will have a close conjunction on Nov. 25 and 26. And it’s capped off finally on December with the crescent moon passes between the two planets before sunrise. Wow! I’m out of breath and I haven’t even stepped outside yet.