Venus And Mercury Dance Cheek-to-cheek As New Year Begins

Venus and Mercury shine over the Duluth, Minn. city skyline this evening December 31st about 40 minutes after sunset. Venus was very easy to spot but Mercury quite tricky with the naked eye. Binoculars showed it easily. In the coming nights, Mercury rises higher and will get easier to see. Credit: Bob King

Hey, hey, what’s this? Another planet creeping up on Venus? Just in time for the new year, speedy Mercury is quickly catching up to the goddess world.

Surreptitious Mercury climbs toward Venus in the next week. Tonight you’ll find the innermost planet 3.5° below and right of Venus. Look for the pair starting 20 minutes to a half-hour after sunset. Venus is about 6° high. Source: Stellarium

Starting tonight you can see both inner planets low in the southwest at dusk starting about 20 minutes after sunset. All you need is an open horizon in that direction. Just to make sure you spot Mercury, carry along a pair of binoculars. Focus first on Venus, then place it at the top of the field of view and look along the bottom for Mercury. The photo above will serve as a guide.

Facing southwest on January 10th, we’ll see Venus and Mercury at their closest, under a degree apart. This map shows the sky about 25 minutes after sunset when the two planets will be about 10° high or about one balled fist held at arm’s length. Source: Stellarium

As 2015 begins, Mercury is heading into a splendid evening apparition, reaching its greatest distance from the Sun on January 14th. With Venus as helper planet, this will be one of the best times in the new year to find furtive Mercury.

For six nights starting on the 8th, the two planets will dance cheek-to-cheek only 1° or less apart. Their tightest separation, when they’ll be just 2/3° apart, occurs on January 10th. Great sights lie ahead!

 

12 Responses

  1. According to the Frinkatron 3000, New Year occurs at exactly Midnight and can be observed on the whole length of the local meridian, from pole to pole.
    Happy 2015 Bob !

  2. Troy

    The first time I spotted Mercury was back in the summer of 1991 using just such a close approach (Jupiter helped as well) That was well before I had a go to telescope and I remember being quite excited about it.

    1. caralex

      Troy, once I’ve spotted Mercury, I’m always impressed by how bright it actually is, and how easy to see. It’s mag. -0.7 today – very bright indeed. Do you find it so?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Edward,
      Very nice of you – thanks! I wish you the same as well as a big, bright comet you can watch every morning out the window while driving the school bus.

  3. caralex

    Bob, would Earth as seen from Mars be brighter or less bright than Venus as seen from Earth? What would be its maximum brightness? Do you know?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Carol,
      I don’t know the maximum but I’ve heard the average is around -2.5. I’ll see if I can find it.

  4. Nathan

    Wow! 2/3 of a degree apart? That is amazing. How often does this sort of thing happen? Is this the closest they have come together? What causes this- do they really get closer together for a time, or is it just an optical illusion?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Nathan,
      They’ve gotten closer, but 2/3 degree is pretty cool. The pairing is line of sight only (optical illusion if you prefer). They’re really millions of miles from each other in space.

  5. Sean

    found Mercury – naked-eye – 1st time for the apparition New Year’s day – had to look for a couple of minutes while the sky got dark enough to find it, but not too bad really, considering everything. having carefully observed where Venus was around that time, went out a few minutes earlier the next day to the same location and got my 1st sighting of daytime Venus this apparition – naked-eye again – about 8 minutes prior to sunset. Hopefully when the moon is “nearby” later this month i can spot it much farther into daytime.

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