Mercury at Western Elongation

   On Saturday March 6th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 27.3o. 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!

   Mercury is currently visible in the morning skies before the Sun rises. This inner planet is steadily moving past Jupiter after having passed by Saturn last week.

   
   
   
   
   

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.

Conjunction – Elongation – Conjunction

   Saturday evening watch for the 11-day old waxing gibbous Moon to be in conjunction with and about 3o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

   Earlier in the evening the innermost planet Mercury was visible over the western horizon shortly after sunset. Mercury, on this date, will be at its Easternmost Elongation for this orbit. At elongation, eastern or western, Mercury, and also Venus, will be as far ‘out’ from the Sun to the right or left as we see the inner planets from Earth. At eastern elongation the inner planets follow the Sun across the sky during the day and appear as evening planets over the western horizon. At western elongation the inner planets ‘lead’ the Sun across the Sky during the day which means they rise ahead of the Sun and are seen as morning planets.

   But Wait – there’s still more!
   Saturn reaches solar conjunction on this date. During solar conjunction for an outer planet that outer planet will either be too close to the Sun to be seen or is on the opposite side of the Sun. When an outer planet reaches solar conjunction it moves from the evening skies to the morning skies.

   
   
   

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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Venus at Western Elongation

inner-planets-positions   Wednesday August 12th the inner planet Venus reaches the point in its orbit called greatest western elongation. As this graphic shows the inner planet Venus, or Mercury, is more or less at a right angle (90o) from the Sun and Earth at western elongation. From the surface of the Earth, your backyard, for example, Venus is to the right, or western side of the Sun and is rising before the Sun.

   On the day of the elongation Venus will be very visible over the southeastern horizon at or before sunrise local time. Venus is joined by a few other planets, Jupiter, Uranus, Mars, and Dwarf Planet Ceres. The waning crescent Moon is nearly straight overhead (at least from 40oN) and a few degrees from the open star cluster the Pleiades. In this graphic the orbital path of Venus has been added, and also an arrow to show the direction Venus will now be moving toward (eastward).

   At western elongation Venus, or for that matter Mercury the other inner planet, is as far out from the Sun as we see them and as a result Venus or Mercury will rise at the earliest time for this orbit. Locally Venus rises that morning at around 3:00 am CDT. On the day of the western elongation Venus will be 45.8o from the Sun. From western elongation forward Venus or Mercury will be moving eastward toward the Sun and each day rising closer and closer to the time of sunrise. As the planet moves eastward it is moving further away from the Earth toward superior conjunction on the opposite side of the Sun.


    As the distance between the Earth and Venus, or Mercury, increases combined with the decreasing angle between the planet, the Earth, and the Sun, Venus or Mercury decreases in apparent size and also waxes through gibbous phase shapes but we never see it at a full phase since that is at superior conjunction.

   
   
   

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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