Hello, friends! For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I decided to talk about the planet Mercury. I wasn’t sure at first if I’d be able to do a whole alphabet’s worth of posts about this one planet, but at this point, I think I just might pull it off! In today’s post, Y is for:
YEAR OF MERCURY WATCHING
My original plan for this post was to talk about Mercury’s year. It’s 88 Earth days long, which (oddly enough) is only half the length of Mercury’s solar day. That’s because of a spin-orbit resonance, sidereal rotation, yada yada… we’ve already talked about this stuff. So instead, today I want to talk about the rest of this year here on Earth and tell you when the best opportunities to see Mercury will be.
The best time to see Mercury is during an “elongation,” which is when Mercury (as viewed from Earth) is as far away from the Sun as he can get. To say that another way, if you drew an imaginary line between Mercury and the Sun, elongation is when that line would be at its longest.
Some elongations end up being a little higher (or should I say longer?) than others. This is because of Mercury’s highly elliptical (non-circular) orbit. The highest elongation of Mercury this year occurred on April 11. I wish I’d known that earlier this month, because I definitely would have mentioned it. Anyway, the next elongation will occur in the morning on May 29, 2023. After that, there will be an elongation in the evening on August 10. Another elongation will occur on the morning of September 22, and another will be on December 4.
Don’t worry too much about the specific dates. You’ll still get a pretty good view of Mercury a few days before and after an elongation occurs.
I have only seen Mercury two times in my life that I know of. I recently learned, however, that Mercury is known to twinkle like a star, so I may have seen him many times without recognizing him as a planet. After all the Mercury research, Mercury writing, and Mercury artwork I’ve done for this year’s A to Z Challenge, I am very eager to get out there and see Mercury again (even if it means getting up before sunrise on or around May 29).
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
I found the dates for upcoming elongations of Mercury in this article from EarthSky.org. The article also goes into a little more detail about how elongations work.