Don’t Miss Your Chance to Get Your Best Look at the Planet Mercury This Friday
Mercury’s greatest western elongation is just around the corner.
While enjoying your morning coffee, you might get a special appearance from none other than Mercury this Friday, January 12. The planet is set for its greatest western elongation just before dawn, or around 6:20 a.m. in your local time zone. “Greatest elongation west” is an astronomical term for the planet positioning itself at the farthest visible distance from the sun. In other words, it’s the easiest way to see Mercury from Earth.
People living in the Southern Hemisphere will have a better view, according to EarthSky.org, but anyone can see it when they look to the east as the sun is rising. You can still spot it in the days following, but you’ll get the best view on January 12—before it “disappears” by early February.
We typically spend time talking about and wondering whether Mercury has turned retrograde (FYI, that’s not until April 1!), but this is an event that only happens a few times per year. For instance, the greatest eastern elongation—or when the planet is visible at night—is on March 24, 2024. After that, the next greatest western elongation is on May 9, 2024.
If you’re planning to check out Mercury with a telescope, you can see it 64 percent illuminated and in a gibbous phase. So, you should see a majority of the planet, but not a full circular shape.
Another date to mark your calendar this month? January 25, when the annual “wolf moon” rises. The year’s first full moon will reach peak illumination at 9:54 a.m. PST, but it’s best to look for it around sunset that evening, per EarthSky.org. And in case you were wondering, howling at the wolf moon is totally optional, but encouraged.