Venus and Mercury
July 14, 2016
Streaky clouds ruled the western northwestern horizon again despite generally clear skies towards sunset on July 14, 2016, at Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. As soon as I arrived, I set up the 16x70 binoculars and spotted magnitude -3.9 Venus at 8:22 pm EDT, then moments later, magnitude -1.2 Mercury in the same binocular field of view. At that point, the two planets were in generally clear sky just above the streaky clouds. Remarkably, it was still before sunset, which was at 8:28 pm, so technically, I saw them in the daytime. That's not so remarkable for brilliant Venus (I've done it many times with optical aid, and even a few times with unaided eyes). However, I've never seen Mercury in the daytime before, with or without optical aid (nor had I captured a daytime image of it). The picture above was captured at 8:25:25 pm, shortly before sunset. Venus is quite prominent, as it was in the binoculars, while Mercury is barely visible (despite adjustments to the brightness and contrast). It was not as difficult to see in the binoculars, although nowhere near as obvious as Venus. Taken with a Canon 6D digital SLR camera on a fixed tripod and a Sigma 70 to 300 mm f/4-5.6 apo zoom lens set to 300 mm focal length. Exposed 1/250 second at f/5.6, ISO 160, daylight white balance. Cropped to about 30% of the original width and 20% of the original height. Mouseover for labels. I followed them in the binoculars until about 8:55 pm, but during that time, I only had a handful of glimpses of Venus and a few of Mercury through gaps in the clouds.
Venus and Mercury
July 12, 2016
Again, despite generally clear skies on July 12, 2016, it was murky with streaky clouds above the horizon towards sunset in the northwest from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. Regardless, I was able to spot Venus with 16x70 binoculars at 8:16 pm EDT, thirteen (13) minutes before sunset, but I was not able to spot Mercury visually (through about 8:50 pm when I started packing up and Mercury was down to 2° altitude). This image happened to be captured at 8:29 pm, at sunset, which is a coincidence since I picked it out without knowing the specific time. Venus is visible with effort (mouseover for label), but it shows readily in the magnifying crop below. Several dark specks are visible too, mainly birds except for an aircraft near Venus. Mercury was not found on initial inspection, but see the second magnifying crop below for more about that. Taken with a Canon 6D digital SLR camera on a fixed tripod and a Sigma 70 to 300 mm f/4-5.6 apo zoom lens set to 300 mm focal length. Exposed 1/250 second at f/5.6, ISO 200, daylight white balance.
After enlarging the area around it, Venus is now easily visible (cropped to 30% of the original frame). Mouseover for labels.
I looked for Mercury by inspecting an enlarged, on-screen version of the original image, but with no success. I then tried finding its location by measurement from a SkyTools chart. I took the angular measure horizontally from Venus to Mercury, then the angular measure from there down to Mercury on the chart. Using the angular measure from SkyTools and the angular size of the frame (6.83° x 4.56° at 300 mm focal length) proportioned to the physical size on the screen, it led directly to a vague whitish spot in the picture — could it actually be Mercury? Here's a 17% crop of the respective area with that vague spot (mouseover for labels). The most prominent dark speck in the picture was also in the cropped area and it clearly appears to be a bird. At first I thought it was a goose flying from left to right, but the neck seemed a bit thin. Then I realized it's more likely a Great Blue Heron flying right to left (the "goose neck" is actually the heron's trailing legs). At one point while searching for Mercury with the 16x70s, I remember seeing a distant bird that flew with the distinctive wing beats of a GBH.
Venus and Mercury
July 11, 2016
The first sighting of the fourth elongation of Mercury for 2016 was accomplished on July 11, 2016, facilitated by the proximity of Venus, about 4° away. As has often been the case looking for Venus and Mercury this year, there were streaky clouds along the horizon towards the setting (or rising) sun that while colorful, interfered with the planetary search. Both planets were teased out of the clouds with 16x70 binoculars, Venus at 8:28 pm EDT and Mercury at 8:39 pm, but only Venus was recorded in this picture taken at 8:44 pm. Venus, magnitude -3.9 and 2¾° altitude, is not apparent in the full-field view, but shows in the cropped enlargement below. Mercury, magnitude -1.6 and 2° altitude, is not visible in either image. Taken with a Canon 6D digital SLR camera on a fixed tripod and a Sigma 70 to 300 mm f/4-5.6 apo zoom lens set to 300 mm focal length. Automatically exposed 1/250 second at f/5.6, ISO 400, daylight white balance (mouseover for labels).
The image below is a 26% crop of the image above, and Venus is now vaguely visible through the clouds (mouseover for label).
Last Update: Saturday, July 16, 2016 at 10:30 PM Eastern Time