Flintstone Stargazing

January 18, 2008

Mercury rising

Filed under: astronomy, Planets — Tags: — Ed @ 3:00 pm

With the latest images from NASA’s Messenger mission, the planet Mercury has been in the news quite a lot over the past week or so. The striking images of a barren, cratered world (much like the Moon) have provided a glimpse of a planet that has only been visited by one other probe (and that one, Mariner 10, was over 30 years ago) and was at that time incompletely imaged. The new images cover areas of Mercury never seen in detail before. Mercury, which is the smallest of the innermost planets is very hard to image because it never gets very high in a dark sky due to its proximity to the Sun. It can only be imaged right after sunset or right before sunrise because of this. By happy coincidence, tonight begins a series of about a week during which the planet may be high enough that I might be able to image it (assuming the currently mostly clear skies hold…) I’m definitely going to try. It should be bright enough to be visible for almost an hour after sunset. it will be in the southwest, setting very close to where the sun sets. So if you want to try to see it visually, make a note of where the sun sets (scheduled for 5:55pm tonight) and look up (not very far) from where the sun sets and south, just a little, and it should be the brightest “star” in that area. It probably won’t be visible until about the time you start seeing other stars so that could mean 7:00. It will set around 8:20 7:20, but in my case it should set before that because Lookout Mountain moves my horizon up above the true horizon. If I get any images, I’ll make sure to post them here. If you see Mercury, please let me know. I’m sure I’ve never seen it before and realized what it was so I’m excited to see it for the first time tonight.

Update: Pretty much at sunset, two layers of clouds moved in, particularly heavy in the West so I didn’t see anything. Well, I’ve got several days to try. If it clears up later, I may get out the scope. I got an illuminated Plossl eyepiece (for precise error correction of the mount) and a 5X Barlow for viewing things really up close (specifically planets and the Moon) today. I’d like to try them out.

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