Mercury at Western Elongation

   On Wednesday July 22nd Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 20.1o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.

   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (inferior conjunction) between the Earth and the Sun to western elongation. From there the inner planet moves eastward going behind the Sun (superior conjunction) and eventually reappearing on the eastern side of the Sun for an eastern elongation. Repeat over and over – do not stop!

   There is a lot to see and a few things you cannot see on the morning of Mercury’s western elongation. Going by relative apparent magnitudes Mercury (0.33), Venus (-4.43), Mars (-0.89) are all easily visible as bright to very bright star-like objects. On the other hand those not seen with the naked-eye but are still above the horizon in the morning skies include: Uranus (5.80), Eris (18.64), Neptune (7.84), Ceres (7.40)


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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