Want to see a rare sight in the sky? You’ll have to set your alarm clock to 6:30 a.m. your local time or just before the sunrise look towards the sun. On Tuesday morning, April 19, the planets Mercury and Mars will appear to meet in the sky. In actuality, they will be separated by about 161 million miles in space. But, when viewed from the Earth’s surface they will only appear about four moon widths apart from each other.
The keys to viewing this natural phenomenon is to look to the eastern sky during the morning twilight. You will need a viewpoint that is low to the eastern horizon with few obstructions in the way, and a pair of binoculars. Make sure the sun’s light is being obstructed before looking into your binoculars at Mercury and Mars. Looking directly into the sun with binoculars is not advised and could be damaging to your eyes. Looking just above the horizon as the sun is coming up will provide for the optimum planetary view.
So, you don’t know where Mercury and Mars are, or need help locating them in the sky? Here are a few astronomical pointers. You can always use the much brighter planets of Venus and Jupiter as visual aids. Jupiter will be the brightest planet directly to the right of the sun during the morning sunrise. Venus will be the brightest planet to the diagonally upper right of Jupiter. Between Jupiter and Venus, will be Mercury and Mars. Mercury will appear slightly higher than Mars. Both Mercury and Mars should appear dimmer in the sky, when diagonally in between the brighter Jupiter and Venus. Once you have located these planet’s enjoy the view and sunrise.
Forget to wake up early or busy? Don’t worry about it, there are many upcoming conjunctions of planets in the months of April and May. Just quickly review your planetary alignment and don’t forget to bring your camera, these dates may provide for stunning photographic opportunities.
April 19: Mercury and Mars
April 22: Venus and Uranus
May 1: Mars and Jupiter
May 8: Mercury and Venus
May 10: Mercury and Jupiter
May 11: Venus and Jupiter
May 18: Mercury and Venus (repeated)
May 20: Mercury and Mars (repeated)
May 22: Venus and Mars
Photo credit: grc.nasa.gov