Mercury, Venus and the Moon

Earlier I had a really fantastic hour or so outside looking at the sky. I hadn't really planned to do any observing but it was pretty clear and Megan said she was going to look for Mercury. Seeing Mercury by eye is not the easiest thing to do because it stays close to the Sun and therefore the sky is usually still quite bright when you look for it. For reasons of timing and weather I have only spotted Mercury by eye from Manchester and Poland a couple of times. Last year, on holiday, I totally failed to see it due to an annoying band of cloud hugging the western horizon. Tonight, with what seems like the first properly clear night this year, I spotted it again. I didn't have my camera so I don't have a picture for you. However, it is currently quite easy to find from northern latitudes so if you get a chance over the weekend, look out for it. First, after sunset, locate the extremely bright Venus which is gracing our western skies in the early evening. Once you've got that, go down and to the right of that by a few degrees (probably about a hand's width or so) towards where the Sun had set (follow Ian's directions if you are in the southern hemisphere). You may not spot it at first but keep looking as it gets darker.

Turning around by 180 degrees I also saw the full Moon rising over in the eastern sky looking very orange as it rose up through the murk (it is back to its normal colour as I look out of my window now). Just seeing these objects by eye is fantastic enough for me, but some of my friends had small telescopes and binoculars handy so we had a look with those too. In a small diameter telescope, Mercury and Venus don't look like they do in Hubble Space Telescope pictures, but the Moon sure does look spectacular. Seeing craters such as Tycho with its rays of ejecta and mountains on the edge of the Moon is just great. I also got a look at the Pleiades and the Orion Nebula too before we all got too cold and came inside. I must get myself some gloves and thick socks for these unexpected observing sessions. I'm thawing out but happy.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 02nd Feb 2007 (19:42 GMT) | Permalink
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