Wednesday Challenge: Mercury and Venus

This Wednesday night, June 19, may be your last chance to spot the planet MERCURY before it fades into the light of the setting sun. Tuesday night, conditions for observing were great in Chicago, and the forecast for Wednesday is also favorable.

I went out on Tuesday to see if I could spot the pair, and to my delight, I succeeded. Here is a wide view photo I took of the pair; Mercury is in the red circle, since it’s a bit hard to see in this shot.

Mercury and Venus
Looking west at about 9:20 pm CDT, Mercury and Venus are just visible above the buildings.

A few things to note:

  • Mercury is quite faint–at the limit of my naked-eye visibility on Tuesday. Seeing it was a little bit like seeing Brigadoon–every once in a while it would emerge from the twilight in the corner of my eye. It actually helps if you look away from it to see it; your peripheral vision is more sensitive to low light. Binoculars–even a telephoto lens on your camera–will help you see it more clearly.
  • VENUS, however, is very bright, and easily seen. Use Venus as a signpost to find Mercury. You can see this more clearly in the photo I took using a telephoto lens (below). On Wednesday, they will be slightly closer together than they were on Tuesday, but Mercury will be a little further below Venus.
  • You have a fairly short time window to see Mercury. Venus is bright enough to see even while the glow of sunset is still strong, but Mercury is not. Start looking a few minutes after 9:00 pm CDT, as the twilight darkens just a bit. Unfortunately, by 9:30 pm or so, they will probably be too low to see behind buildings or trees.
  • As you can see from the wide shot, they are both very low in the western sky. You’ll need a clear horizon. I went to Cricket Hill in the lakefront park near Montrose Harbor. The extra height provided by the hill helped sight lines.
Mercury and Venus (telephoto)
Telephoto lens view of Mercury and Venus (click to enlarge)

Good luck!

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