Get a rare look at Mercury — Venus too!

April 2010 is a particularly good time to see the planet Mercury.  Mercury is the innermost planet to the sun, and is thus difficult to observe.  But you can get a good look at Mercury in early April this year, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

Look toward the west at sunset (being careful not to look at the sun!).  You should see two bright points of light above the western horizon.  The object on top is the planet Venus, and the object beneath that is the planet Mercury.   Both planets are in the constellation Aries, which is a Name A Star Live constellation.  So if you have a star in Aries, then if you find Venus and Mercury, you know your star is nearby!

Venus and Jupiter at Sunset
Venus and Jupiter shortly after sunset, June 2002. Credit: NASA

Mercury and Venus will appear closest together on the evenings of April 3 and 4.  Again, the best views will be from the northern hemisphere of Earth.  If you live in the southern hemisphere, then the two planets will appear so close to the western horizon at sunset that you may not get a good view.  (Again, don’t look at the sun!)

If you observe the two planets through a telescope. you’ll notice that Venus looks like a bright, almost-full circle, while Mercury looks like a semi-circle — or even a crescent shape.  This is because Mercury is so very close to the sun that we never really see the full face of the planet.

Don’t wait!  Your best views of Venus and Mercury will be in the first week to 10 days of April.