Mercury – up before sunrise – start watching now


Mercury, the innermost planet in our solar system, reaches its greatest elongation on January 12, 2024. During this time, it appears on one side of the sun as seen from Earth, and it is at its farthest distance from the sun in the sky. This event occurs approximately every 116 days, as Mercury orbits the sun every 88 days.

On December 22, 2023, Mercury passed between Earth and the sun in a phenomenon known as inferior conjunction. Since then, it has been moving ahead of Earth in its orbit. Now, it is re-emerging in our dawn sky, appearing near the sunrise and below the bright planet Venus. This makes it a great time to look for Mercury in the morning sky.

Due to the angle of the ecliptic, the path of the sun, moon, and planets, the January 2024 Mercury elongation is slightly better viewed from the Southern Hemisphere. Mercury will reach a higher altitude on the sky dome in this region. However, it will still be visible in the Northern Hemisphere as well.

To spot Mercury, look in the direction of the sunrise as the sky is getting lighter. The greatest elongation will occur on January 12 at 15:00 UTC (10:00 a.m. CDT), with Mercury shining at a magnitude of 0.5 and located 24 degrees from the sun. Through a telescope, it will appear 64% illuminated and approximately 6.8 arcseconds across.

After January 12, Mercury will continue to brighten, reaching a magnitude of around -0.5 before becoming more difficult to spot in the morning glare of February. In the Northern Hemisphere, it will be low in the bright twilight shortly before sunrise, while in the Southern Hemisphere, it will be low in the southeast below Venus.

For specific rising times of the sun and Mercury at your location, you can refer to resources such as the Old Farmer’s Almanac, timeanddate.com, or the online planetarium program Stellarium.

In conclusion, Mercury’s greatest elongation on January 12, 2024, provides an opportunity to observe this elusive planet in the morning sky. Whether you are in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, make sure to look towards the sunrise direction as the sky brightens. Enjoy the celestial spectacle!



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