Mercury And Venus Trade Places, Liven Up Dawn And Dusk This Week

Venus is back! This time in the morning sky during mid-twilight. This view shows the planet about 10 degrees high (one fist at arm’s length) 40 minutes before sunrise tomorrow. Stellarium

Like resurrected gods, Mercury and Venus passed closest to the fiery glare of the sun earlier this month and disappeared from view for a time. Now they’ve returned but on opposite sides of the sun – Mercury in the evening and Venus in the morning.

Venus lingered for months in the dusky dusk until Jan. 11 when it passed between the sun and Earth and disappeared in the solar glare. Now she’s west of the sun, rising at dawn and visible with the naked eye about 40 minutes before sunrise.

Mercury has also stayed “close” to the sun and hidden from northern hemisphere sky watchers’s eyes during the first half of January. Now it’s crawling up the southwestern evening sky and will gradually become easier to see in the next week. While a feeble replacement for brilliant Venus, the solar system’s elusive, innermost planet is a rarer sight by far.

Mercury’s position shown 30 minutes after sunset on three dates. A very thin crescent will pass near the planet on Jan. 31. Mercury’s altitude is about 4 degrees tonight, 8 deg. on the 26th and 10 deg. on the 31st. The map shows the sky facing west-southwest. Stellarium

I’ve prepared simple maps for you to find both of these wanderers. You’ll need a clear horizon to the southeast to spy Venus and the same to the southwest for Mercury. You’ll find Venus much easier to spot because it’s so much brighter than Mercury and somewhat higher too.

In early January Venus lay east of the sun in the evening sky with its horns pointing left; now in late January, it’s swung west of the sun into the morning sky with the tips pointing west. Illustration: Bob King

If you’ve been following the planet over the last month, you’ll notice that the crescent is reversed from its evening appearance, with horns pointing up to the right instead of left. Tomorrow morning the crescent measures 59 arc seconds across or nearly one arc minute (60 arc seconds), equal to 1/30 the diameter of the full moon. 7-10x binoculars will easily show the delicate Venusian crescent.

Venus and Mercury on Jan. 19 viewed through a telescope (or in Venus’ case, also binoculars). Although not shown to scale in this illustration, Venus is more than 10 times larger in appearance than Mercury. Stellarium

Don’t expect to see Mercury’s humpbacked gibbous phase in the old opera glass. The munchkin planet spans only 3,032 miles across (2.5 times smaller than Venus) and is currently on the far side of its orbit 4.6 times farther from Earth than Venus. With a disk just 5.5 arc seconds across, Mercury’s phase will require a telescope magnifying around 100x to see clearly.

Now all you’ve got to do is resurrect yourself from the couch and go out for a look.

37 Responses

  1. Hey Bob!

    I saw Venus this morning – do I win a prize?

    To be honest I wasn’t really looking for it but there it was shining like a diamond low above the orange glow which soon drowned it out. I saw it at about 7.45am – I guess I just caught it right because any lower and it would’ve been lost in the thick of the atmosphere, and the sky had brightened too much for it to be clearly seen within about another 10-15 minutes.

    I quickly tried to take some photos with my mobile – very poor quality (and no-one would believe me) but I definitely caught it on camera. If I get up early enough in the morning I’ll try and have a better camera ready.

    Here’s hoping for another clear sky tomorrow!

    All the best

    1. astrobob

      Hi Paul,
      Congrats on the early sighting. If you get a nice photo, please send it to me and I will include it in the blog.

      1. Sean

        Hi Bob. U were right about it being naked-eye visible. Boy did it put some distance between itself and the sun in one week! Paul from Tblisi caught it over a day b4 me, tho i can tell it would have been visible a couple of days earlier at least since i was able to track it from 6:24AM for over 20 minutes (sunrise was about 7:06AM) and if not for high clouds i bet i could have tracked it into daylight. if u actually wanted pix i took some with my cell phone from inside my apartment thru my open window, not very hi-res (only 8MP), one without any other devices and about 3 thru my 10×50’s.

          1. astrobob

            Thanks Sean! I’ll take a look here in a few minutes. Just got in from observing the new supernova in M82. Very bright!

  2. caralex

    Great! I always look forward to searching for Mercury after sunset. Although it’s elusive, it always surprises me by how bright it actually is, once you’ve located it.

      1. Edward M. Boll

        Mercury is the only bright planet difficult to locate though I have seen it many times. What is even more exciting is seeing a bright planet like Jupiter or Venus below it.

  3. Lynn

    Hi Bob
    Just read in my local paper this morning about a YouTube video that’s popular and it’s supposed to be about a ‘spaceship’, on the moon, of course I don’t believe in spaceships lol, but just wanted to ask you is this just another defect that you find all the time on Google sky/earth as I remember the one that went around in 2012 and you done a blog on it under “is earth under attack by google sky glitches”, and of course it was a defect, i just don’t understand why some newspapers insist in putting these kind of stories in their papers, and in the YouTube video it gives you co ordinaries to check it out on the moon, but I would imagine if I checked those on DSS there probably wouldn’t be anything there, right? Thanks Bob ☺️

    1. astrobob

      It’s just another case of a rock formation looking like something else. Oh, and it’s accompanied by scary music to add that essential fear factor.

  4. Lynn

    Sorry Bob, when you say another rock formation do you mean it’s there but it’s made to look like a ‘spaceship’, I don’t get why they lights are there the ones that’s shaped as an arrow, I just thought this was a defect made by Google as there has been a lot of these around, because if you remember your blog in October 2012 you said that ‘object’ wasn’t real and it was either a defect or a glitch caused by Google, so is that image from your blog in 2012 a different thing from this story, as the story away back then was a guy trying to say the image was an asteroid so I just thought they were maybe both defects, sorry so long but thanks

    1. astrobob

      I thought you were talking about the moon. There is no DSS involved with lunar photography. It’s a rock formation – at least in the youtube videos I looked up – that someone thinks looks like a spaceship. Of course they completely miss the point that because something vaguely resembles a spaceship (in their imagination) doesn’t necessarily mean it IS a spaceship.

  5. Lynn

    Bob, I didn’t know there was no DSS involved for the moon, so where does the images come from for the moon and then they appear on google earth, and yes sorry I was talking about the moon but I was comparing it to the image on your blog from 2012 as at that time you had said that was a defect so I thought the image for the moon was a defect also, but your saying it’s a rock formation but I had wondered why the image in 2012 could be a defect but the moon one isn’t or is the 2012 image a defect because it is from DSS

    1. astrobob

      It looks like Apollo pix in the youtube video I saw. The stuff on Google Earth uses imagery from the Clementine spacecraft mission in the mid-1990s. Not sure to which blog of mine you’re referring. Could you give me a link to it?

      1. caralex

        Bob, here’s the link to the LRO image of the crater:

        Unfortunately, it’s overexposed, even on the usually high-quality LRO images. From what I’ve been reading on the net, the anomaly is nothing more than a digital artifact.

        1. astrobob

          Thanks Carol – That link doesn’t work but no worries. NASA intentionally crashes ships on the moon, but this sounds like the usual alien ship nonsense. I saw the thing in the video and it’s a lighting artifact/misinterpretation fueled by hyperbole.

          1. astrobob

            Thanks. That looks like a small, relatively fresh (few tens of million years give or take) rayed crater.

          2. astrobob

            Carol and Lynn,
            First off, the coordinates given for the crater make no sense. Here they are: 22042’38.46N and 142034’44.52E. Even ignoring the nonsensical apostrophe and converting minutes to degrees 22042 minutes = 367 degrees. The longitude converts to 2,367 degrees. These numbers make no sense. Lunar latitude maximum is 90 degrees and longitude max is 180 degrees. My favorite part of the article though is seeing Dr. Norton’s name in quotes, something normally used to indicate a thing that’s not quite true. Oh wait, I take that back, quotes were used to “protect his identity”.

  6. Lynn

    Hi Bob
    Sorry for the late reply, and I seen the comments left by Caralex and looked at the link she gave, and of course it doesn’t look like a ‘spaceship’, but I didn’t think it was one anyway I was just wondering if it had been a defect , and it’s just the clementine spacecraft mission that these images come from for the moon, is that right?.
    This is the link from that blog you done But as you will remember it was a defect and I had found this so called ‘asteroid’ on one of the DSS plates and as far as I’m aware it was caused by some sort of defect, it’s not an actual asteroid is that right?, I had just been comparing that to this YouTube video and thought it was a defect too and could check it on DSS but now know there is no DSS for the moon images, thanks Bob and sorry for all the questions ☺️

    1. astrobob

      Yes, that blog was about glitches in Google sky caused by stitching, dust, etc. and other artifacts. While it’s possible there are glitches with how Google Moon works I’ve not heard of them. I will look into the bogus spaceship I think and possible write something up today. I saw the article now and it’s clear their “Dr. Norton” is made up.

      1. caralex

        Bob, those coordinates of 22042’38.46N and 142034’44.52E make no sense, as written, but what seems to have happened is that the degree symbol, the little circle, was replaced in error by a zero. It makes sense when you replace the two zeros with degrees.

  7. Guy S

    About how long is Mercury visible after sunset? I was watching for it yesterday but clouds foiled my view. Got some nice sunset photos instead.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Guy,
      Mercury is just coming into its best view this winter. It will be rising higher all the way through the 31st – more than doubling its altitude from Sunday.

    2. Sean

      so i finally spotted it today at about 5:46PM, naked-eye, quite low in the SW, and it set prior to 6PM. when i spotted it (i live at a mid-N latitude) the time was about an hour past sunset, and from its brightness at the time compared to the surrounding sky i would guess it had probably already been visible for 15ish minutes b4 i saw it.

        1. Sean

          lol thx Bob. i definitely like the challenge of 1st/last sightings of a planet or the moon during an apparition, and daylight planet/small crescent moon sightings. these never get old really cuz u can always try to beat any previous record! i guess i feel first finding it naked-eye is more, pure, i guess. sometimes binos make it too easy. i mean, i usually observe with binos after naked-eye sighting. I will make exceptions tho. 1st time i spotted Panstarrs in April, i tried for several minutes to find it naked-eye but was getting worried that it would set so i used the binos to locate it, and it WAS naked-eye, once i knew exactly where to look! so worth using the binos as that was the only time i saw it naked-eye and would have missed the chance without using the binos probably.

          1. astrobob

            Yep – I’ll cheat with binoculars and then once I know exactly where to look try to find it naked eye. Because of how bright twilight was with PANSTARRS, it was necessary to use binoculars or lose the comet altogether on those early nights.

  8. Lynn

    Thanks Bob for the explanation and quite clearly by what you are saying is that nothing is working out right and Nasa has a lot to answer too

        1. caralex

          Sorry, Bob, but my remark didn’t appear under the comment it was replying to! I was referring to Lynn’s comment: “Thanks Bob for the explanation and quite clearly by what you are saying is that nothing is working out right and Nasa has a lot to answer too ”

          I was wondering how she came to such a conclusion, having read your explanations.

          Sorry for the confusion!

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