See A Double-Planet Huddle At Dawn

Mercury and Jupiter will squeeze within 3/4 degree (a little more than one moon diameter apart) of each other on Oct. 11 low in the eastern sky 45 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter will shine about a magnitude brighter than Mercury. Credit: Stellarium
Mercury and Jupiter will squeeze within 3/4 degree (a little more than one moon diameter apart) of each other on Oct. 11 low in the eastern sky 45 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter will shine about a magnitude brighter than Mercury. Credit: Stellarium

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.

This low-power telescope view shows the planet Mercury to the left or north of Jupiter. All four satellites may be visible in the brightening sky. Both planets will easily fit in the same low magnification field of view. Stellarium
This low-power telescope view shows the planet Mercury to the left or north of Jupiter. All four satellites may be visible in the brightening sky. Both planets will easily fit in the same low magnification field of view. Stellarium

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.