Hey, Sky Fans!
How are you holding up? I hope you’re doing all right today.
Here’s a riddle. What solar system thing is tiny, far from us, speedy, and always sticks close enough to the Sun that it often gets lost in the glare?
It’s … it’s the all-wheel-drive Topaz, new for ’83!
Well… you’re on the right track, believe it or not. It’s the planet Mercury (the “there’s water there?!” one)!
As other planets go, Venus? Saturn? Jupiter?
Morons. Easy. Believe it or not, since Mercury’s so tough to spot (see above), lots of us have never seen it. Well, now’s your chance! And, yes, I’m know I’m a little late on this.
For the next few nights, Mercury’ll be teaming up in our western skies with the planet Venus (the “It burns! It burns! It burns!” one). Venus is still really amazing bright in our skies, but it’s sinking lower by the day. It’ll be gone from the evenings the before long. So, if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, what are you waiting for? This is your chance!
Grab some socially distant trash and head out just after sundown tonight. Where I am, we’re talking around 8:30, maybe 9:00 at the latest, but it’ll vary for you. As the Sun splits the scene, look into the goregous yellows and oranges of tonight’s sunset. If the clouds stay away, you’ll see Venus looking back at you. At first, it might be tough to see Mercury, but as darkness falls around you and the planets, and the stars start to come out, you should — and should is always a tough word — be able to make out tiny, dim Mercury, too. It’ll be at around the 7:00 or 8:00 position, with Venus at the center of the clock.
Mercury’s always a little understated. For now, it’s a little farther from us than the Sun is, plus it’s only a little bigger than our own Moon is. So, be patient. Imagine looking at the Moon from over 93 million miles / 150 million kilometers, while it’s surrounded by dusky leftover sunlight.
But this gives you a great chance for one of those “Hey! There it is!” moments, as you look out across the very floor of our solar system, in toward the Sun.
Over the next couple of nights, you’ll see the two planets slide past each other. Then, this weekend, May 23-24, the Moon will join the fun and slide past them.
The Moon will be a little on the young side, but this could be truly gorgeous. A razor-thin Moon tied up among the two planets? Right there in that one scene, all of the bigish-roundish things in the inner solar system in one tiny block of sky, including the bigish-roundish thing you’re standing on. Absolutely stunning. By, say, 9:00, it’s all over.
And there you have it, another planet checked off your list. We’ll talk about the stars you’ll see as the night goes on a little later. And if you can’t find it? You spent a few minutes under the sky. Not a bad deal.
Tell your friends, lemme know how it goes, and stay safe. Clear skies, everyone!