Mercury’s been hanging out at dawn the past couple weeks. But you knew that. You may have even set your alarm for a look at the shy planet. In case you haven’t, Jupiter will sweeten the pot on Tuesday morning (Oct. 11). The biggest planet, which has been hiding in the glare of the sun since September, will meet the smallest that morning in a close conjunction.
The two will be just ¾° apart only a few degrees above the eastern horizon 45 minutes before the sun comes up. A clear, wide view to the east will be essential to your success. Bring binoculars to assist especially if thin clouds streak the scene. If you have a small telescope and center it on the planetary pair, you might even discern several of Jupiter’s brightest moons.
Jupiter is the morning sky’s ‘fresh face’, now returning to view after conjunction with the sun late last month. Both planets are located in the constellation Virgo but will soon separate. Mercury turns back toward the sun and returns to the evening sky later this month. Jupiter slowly climbs higher and higher, rising into a dark sky by mid-November.
Planets come together and come apart as their separate cosmic rhythms now and again intersect to make a sort of visual rhyme.