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Where to view the transit of Mercury on 9 May

7 May 2016 Astronomy Now

With the transit of Mercury just two days away, interest in this comparatively rare event is growing fast. Given the favourable timing of this 7½-hour phenomenon for the UK, many will be able to view it at lunchtime or after work. If you don’t have suitably equipped telescope, join one of the many transit-viewing activities hosted by astronomical organisations nationwide.

Observing

How and when to observe the transit of Mercury on 9 May

7 May 2016 Ade Ashford

On Monday, 9 May just after midday BST, suitably equipped observers in the British Isles can witness the start of a 7½-hour spectacle that hasn’t been seen for almost a decade — the silhouette of innermost planet Mercury crossing the face of the Sun. Here’s our online guide to observing this fascinating and comparatively rare event in complete safety.

News

Rare transit of Mercury to take place on 9 May

1 May 2016 Astronomy Now

On Monday, 9 May there will be a rare transit of Mercury, when the innermost planet in our solar system will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun. The last time this happened was in 2006. With a properly filtered telescope and fine weather, the entire 7½-hour event can be seen from the British Isles.

Observing

Catch a glimpse of planet Mercury at its best in the evening twilight

13 April 2016 Ade Ashford

Have you ever seen Mercury with the naked eye? If not, now is the time to check the elusive innermost planet off your list. Mercury reaches greatest easterly elongation from the Sun on Monday, 18 April, the highlight of a very favourable dusk apparition in the west-northwest for observers in Western Europe and the British Isles.

Picture This

Pluto’s icy ‘spider’

7 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Sprawling across Pluto’s icy landscape is an unusual geological feature that resembles a giant spider. This enhanced colour image, obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on 14 July 2015, consists of at least six extensional fractures (arrowed) converging to a point near the centre. Curiously, the spider’s “legs” expose red deposits below Pluto’s surface.

News

Mercury’s mysterious surface darkness revealed

7 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists have long been puzzled about what makes Mercury’s surface so dark. The innermost planet reflects much less sunlight than the Moon, a body on which surface darkness is controlled by the abundance of iron-rich minerals. These are known to be rare at Mercury’s surface, so what is the “darkening agent” there?

Observing

A guide to our updated interactive Almanac

5 February 2016 Ade Ashford

If the current alignment of all the bright naked-eye planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — in the morning sky has prompted you to speculate where in the world might be the best place to view the spectacle, here’s a guide to using our upgraded interactive Almanac to help you find out.

Observing

See all five naked-eye planets gathered in the morning sky

20 January 2016 Ade Ashford

All five of the bright naked-eye planets are observable in the pre-dawn sky from about the third week of January 2016, particularly if one lives south of the equator. But even from the UK, you can get to view the spectacle if you time it right — and the weather obliges! The last time that Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn appeared in the same sky was 11 years ago.

News

Mercury receives a meteoroid shower from Comet Encke

11 November 2015 Astronomy Now

The planet Mercury is being pelted regularly by bits of dust from an ancient comet, a new study has concluded. Comet Encke has the shortest period of any comet, returning to perihelion every 3.3 years. The dust from the comet affects Mercury’s tenuous atmosphere and may lead to a new understanding on how these airless bodies maintain their ethereal envelopes.

Observing

See the morning planet show and Mercury at its best

15 October 2015 Ade Ashford

In the small hours of Friday, 16 October, innermost planet Mercury reaches its greatest westerly elongation from the Sun. For those of you in the UK with a flat, unobscured eastern horizon and willing to get up an hour before sunrise, the next few days provide your best opportunity to see Mercury from the Northern Hemisphere during 2015.