Mercury Sighting Details for 2016

Mercury has six elongations in 2016. The initial sighting for each of these is tabulated below:

Sequence

Initial Sighting Date (2016)

Observing Location

Greatest Elongation (2016)

#1

January 28, 6:30 am EST RR Tracks, Maple Shade, NJ

February 6, western (morning)

#2

April 3, 7:49 pm EDT Coyle Field, Woodland Twp, NJ

April 18, eastern (evening)

#3

June 6, 4:44 am EDT Old Mart Site, Pennsauken, NJ

June 5, western (morning)

#4

July 11, 8:39 pm EDT Swede Run, Moorestown, NJ

August 16, eastern (evening)

#5

September 22, 5:58 am EDT Old Mart Site, Pennsauken, NJ

September 28, western (morning)

#6

November 18, 4:59 pm EDT Baseball Fields, Maple Shade, NJ

December 10, eastern (evening)

 

Elongation #1

The sighting on January 28, 2016 was the first of the 2016 elongation cycle. It was accomplished with 10x50 binoculars from inside my car, then a moment later with unaided eyes outside the car, by looking about 10 at the 8 o'clock position from bright Venus in morning twilight 42 minutes before sunrise (the sky was generally quite clear, except for streaky dark clouds along the southeastern horizon, which delayed the sighting a bit). Mercury was about 7 altitude and magnitude +0.3 at the time. Moving west from Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter were also visible all five of the traditional naked-eye planets (Uranus excluded) as well as the Moon next to Jupiter (see below). Mercury was spotted again on January 30, from Borton Landing Road in Moorestown, NJ, about 6:30 am in brightening twilight when it was at magnitude +0.2 and 7 altitude. No pre-spotting with binoculars was needed. Mercury was even seen with unaided eyes through the windshield on the way to Borton Landing Road. Mercury (magnitude 0.0) was spotted again on February 7, from my east-facing, second floor bedroom window at 6:35 am with 8x42 binoculars, 4 below-left of Venus. The slender crescent moon, 1.8% illuminated and 27 hr 04 min before new, was also spotted at 6:35 am with the 8x42s, then seen without optical aid. Mercury (magnitude -0.1) was spotted again on February 14, from a car wash parking lot looking towards the Voorhees Town Center (the former Echelon Mall) at 6:03 am EDT using 16x70 binoculars, 4 below-left of Venus, then it was seen with unaided eyes.

 

Elongation #2

The first sighting of the second elongation of the year (the one leading up to the transit on May 9th) was on April 3, 2016, 11 days after superior conjunction, from Coyle Field with 16x70 binoculars. At magnitude -1.3, it was then glimpsed with unaided eyes. The steep angle of the ecliptic after sunset this time of year, about 75 with respect to the horizon, was a favorable factor.  Mercury was also spotted on April 5, 8 12, 14, 15, 16 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25 & 27 (for a total of fourteen different evenings in April 2016). On 5 and 8, it was necessary to locate Mercury with binoculars before seeing it unaided. On 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, it was readily apparent with unaided eyes in the deepening twilight, but by the 16th, the decline in brightness was noticeable. On 24, it was difficult to see unaided, and on 25 and 27, Mercury was not seen with unaided eyes. I also observed Mercury with my 80 mm apo refractor starting on the 14th. Seeing was surprisingly good, so the half-illuminated disc was apparent with a straight terminator at 102x. I looked with my 12.5-inch dob on the 17th, but poor seeing at the low altitude resulted in just a woozy half-lit disc being seen, despite using several different eyepieces and several different-colored filters. On 19, 20, 23, 24, 25 and 27, I observed again with my 80 mm refractor (plus the 12.5-inch on 23), and could see a concave terminator, so it was a crescent, albeit, somewhat like a fat banana (seeing at the low altitudes is generally poor, usually with distinct atmospheric chromatic aberration too). However, on 27, when Mercury made just a several-minute appearance above a moving cloud bank, in the 80 mm, the banana-shaped crescent momentarily looked liked a clipped fingernail (a thin crescent). The brief window of visibility ended when Mercury disappeared behind the cloud bank. It turned out to be my final view before the transit. On May 9, the weather finally cooperated and I was able to see the limb of Mercury's silhouette making first contact with the sun at 7:14 am EDT, ≈11 days since my last evening sighting on April 27.

 

Elongation #3

The first sighting of the third elongation of the year (the one following the transit on May 9) was on June 6, 2016, one day after greatest elongation, from the old Mart site in Pennsauken, NJ, with 16x70 binoculars. Mercury was at 3 altitude and magnitude +0.50. It was not seen with unaided eyes. I followed it until 4:57 am, when it disappeared into a cloud bank. This sighting took some effort because the pre-sunrise ecliptic was not very steep, plus Mercury had a negative ecliptic latitude. In addition, low clouds along the eastern horizon had already foiled several attempts in the week before this successful sighting. It was finally quite clear (and cool) on the morning of June 8. Returning to the old Mart site, Mercury was picked up at 4:31 am EDT, six minutes after it rose, with 10x50 binoculars when it was at 103' altitude, magnitude +0.34. Mercury was subsequently  glimpsed for a moment with unaided eyes a few times. On June 11 at the Mart, Mercury was spotted with 16x70 binoculars at 4:30 am EDT when it was 112' altitude, magnitude +0.11. However, streaky cloudiness along the horizon precluded seeing it with unaided eyes. On June 12, Mercury was spotted with 10x50 binoculars, starting at 4:38 am EDT, as it peeked in and out of streaky clouds along the horizon. Despite brightening to magnitude -0.05, the clouds again prevented sighting it with unaided eyes. Finally, on June 18, the sky was clear along the horizon on a wonderfully cool morning. Magnitude -0.44 Mercury was initially spotted with 10x50 binoculars at 4:35 am EDT, 10 minutes after it rose. It was then seen unambiguously with unaided eyes at 4:40 am through 4:50 am. The last look with the 10x50s was at 4:55 am.

For the night of June 25/26, I noticed the possibility of seeing all seven (7) non-earth planets if I could snag Venus near sunset (I had yet to see it since superior conjunction on June 6), and if I could pick up Mercury before sunrise. Venus is now swinging away from the evening sun while Mercury is converging with the morning sun, so there's a window of opportunity to catch them at opposite ends of the same night. I excluded (134340) Pluto, since it is now classified as a dwarf planet (and current circumstances prevent me from heading to the dark Pines with my 12.5-inch scope to see it; besides, it would be an almost impossible task, being just a few arc minutes from magnitude 2.9 Albaldah, Pi Sgr).

Anyway, I went to Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, and was able to spot magnitude -3.9 Venus at 8:24 pm EDT (9 minutes before sunset when it was at 5 altitude and 5 solar elongation) using 16x70 binoculars. I followed it with the 16x70s until 8:38 pm, but never saw it with unaided eyes. Jupiter was picked up with unaided eyes at 8:37 pm and Mars was picked up with unaided eyes at 8:40 pm (these two were also observed with my 80 mm apo refractor later on, but the seeing wasn't that good). Saturn was spotted with 16x70 binoculars at 8:55 pm (the rings were visible with the 16x70s). I returned to Swede Run about 3:15 am, but the sky was really hazy. I spotted Neptune at 3:25 am with an 80 mm apo refractor by matching it against the field stars on my SkyTools chart. Because of the haze, and the 68% illuminated moon 5 away, it was too dim to see any bluish color or a disc. Uranus was spotted at 3:40 am, again by its position with respect to the field stars. There was no distinct color, but I did see a borderline disc at 204x. From there, I went to the old Mart site in Pennsauken, NJ, to look for Mercury before sunrise (5:33 am). As the sky brightened (astronomical twilight started at 3:30 am), the haze dissipated into light clouds that ultimately disappeared, except along the eastern horizon. Magnitude -1.2 Mercury rose at 4:42 am and I finally spotted it with the 16x70s at 5:07 am on June 26 when it was at 4 altitude, just above the band of streaky clouds along the horizon (solar elongation was 12.5). I followed it in the binoculars until 5:15 am, and I never saw it with unaided eyes.

 

Elongation #4

The first sighting of the fourth elongation of the year was at 8:39 pm EDT on July 11, 2016, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, with 16x70 binoculars through streaky clouds along the horizon. This was just five (5) days after superior conjunction on July 6th and sixteen (16) days since the last sighting before superior conjunction. At the time, Mercury was at 2 altitude, magnitude -1.6 and had a 6 solar elongation. It was not seen with unaided eyes. Venus was quite helpful as a guide to finding Mercury since the latter was 4 from the former at the 4 o'clock position. On July 12, Mercury was not seen visually, but found on later examination of some photos taken while observing. On July 14, Mercury was spotted with 16x70 binoculars at 8:22 pm EDT, six (6) minutes before sunset, which is my first daytime sighting (well, technically daytime anyway). It was also captured in an image 2.5 minutes before sunset. On July 15 at Swede Run, Venus and Mercury were spotted about 8:12 pm, 15 minutes before sunset (then followed past sunset), with 16x70 binoculars, but they were unseen with unaided eyes before leaving around 8:45 pm. Subsequently, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn were seen with unaided eyes after 9 pm, then Uranus and Neptune were spotted with 10x50 binoculars around 3:22 am on July 16. Therefore, all seven (7) traditional planets were spotted in the sky overnight July 15/16. Of course, Earth was seen too and I elected not to include Dwarf Planet (134340) Pluto, although it was now half a degree from Pi Sgr (in contrast to a few arc minutes away on the night of June 25/26).

On July 17 at Swede Run, Venus and Mercury were spotted shortly after arrival with 16x70 binoculars, Venus at 8:28 pm EDT and Mercury at 8:29 pm (sunset was at 8:26 pm). Venus was subsequently glimpsed with unaided eyes at 8:50 pm as it neared the tree tops. Mercury was not seen with unaided eyes. On July 19 at the Maple Shade, NJ, baseball field complex, they were spotted with 10x50 binoculars, Venus at 8:37 pm EDT and Mercury at 8:41 pm (sunset was at 8:24 pm). Because there were bands of thick clouds above the horizon, they were not seen in the same binocular view until 8:44 pm. Venus was glimpsed with unaided eyes after finding it in the binoculars; Mercury was not seen with unaided eyes (it was relatively dim in the hazy gaps between clouds). On July 27 at SR (Swede Run), magnitude -0.29 Mercury was spotted with 10x50 binoculars at 8:43 pm when a gap in cumulus clouds opened. At 8:58, it was glimpsed with unaided eyes as twilight deepened (sunset at 8:18 pm), but the murky haze along the horizon countered the increasing darkness to a large extent. Venus, 6 away at 4 o'clock position from Mercury, was not difficult to see with unaided eyes. On August 3 at SR, magnitude 0.0 Mercury was spotted with 10x50 binoculars at 8:29 pm. It could be seen (not just glimpsed) with unaided eyes at 8:50 pm not far from the distant tree tops, but one needed to know where to look (unlike magnitude -3.9 Venus, which was spotted with the 10x50s at 8:10 pm, then from 8:20 pm until it dipped below the tree line, could be seen with unaided eyes relatively easily, although not a bright beacon yet). On August 4 at SR, Mercury was only 1 from the 51.5 hour old, 5% illuminated moon. However, the pair disappeared into a cloud bank before Mercury could be spotted with binoculars. However, it was captured in an image at 8:18 pm, shortly before going behind the clouds (see the picture on the home page). On August 7 at SR, Mercury was briefly spotted between streaky clouds with 10x50 binoculars. On August 9 at SR, there were streaky clouds again, but in gaps, Jupiter and Venus were seen with unaided eyes about 18 apart. Midway between them, Mercury was visible in 10x50 binoculars at 8:20 pm (sunset at 8:04 pm). On August 13 at SR, Mercury was spotted with 10x50 binoculars at 8:27 pm when it reached a clear patch in ragged clouds. On August 18 at SR, Mercury was spotted with 10x50 binoculars at 8:16 pm through a murky sky above the horizon. On August 22 at SR, Mercury was spotted with 10x50 binoculars at 8:12 pm in a remarkably clear sky (it was cool with low humidity). Despite the transparency, it was difficult to see. The final sighting of this elongation was on August 23 when it was spotted at 8:12 pm in a gap between broken clouds with my 80 mm, f/6 refractor and a 30 mm, 82 eyepiece (16x, 5.1 afov). It was a blurry blob at low altitude. That's fifteen (15) sightings this elongation.

 

Elongation #5

The first sighting of the fifth elongation of the year was at 5:58 am EDT on September 22, 2016, from the old Mart site in Pennsauken, NJ, with 16x70 binoculars, then it was seen with unaided eyes almost immediately (once the location was established with the binoculars). Mercury was at magnitude +1.0 and 4.1 altitude, 50 minutes before sunrise at 6:48 am. It was 9 days after inferior conjunction on the evening of September 12, 2016, and the first clear morning in nearly a week. On September 25, it was a bit chilly (52F) and very clear. Magnitude +0.2 Mercury was spotted with unaided eyes at 5:34 am, moments after arrival, when it was at 1 altitude (8 minutes after it rose). It was followed with unaided eyes and with an 80 mm refractor until about 6:20 am, when it became difficult to see in bright twilight, half an hour before sunrise (and I didn't pursue it with binoculars). In the scope, seeing wasn't good and there was plenty of atmospheric chromatic aberration, but by 6:15 am, it finally looked convincingly elongated and tilted in an 8 to 2 o'clock orientation (the view in the refractor with a diagonal was correct vertically, but reversed horizontally). At the time, crescent Mercury was 34% illuminated. The crescent moon, high in the east, was similarly illuminated (29%). Mercury was easily seen again on October 6 with unaided eyes (through the windshield), immediately on arrival at the Mart site at 6:20 am. It was at 6 altitude, magnitude -1.0 and 80% illuminated. The sky, even along the horizon, was quite clear. As a result, I was also able to spot Jupiter with 16x70 binoculars at 6:27 am when it was at 0.9 altitude with a solar elongation of 752'. That's my first sighting of Jupiter since solar conjunction at 3 pm EDT on September 26 (about 9.6 days prior). Mercury and Jupiter were seen again on October 10, initially with 10x50 binoculars. Mercury was spotted at 6:12 am, shortly after arrival, and Jupiter cleared the distant tree tops at 6:15 am. Both were visible with unaided eyes from 6:20 am until I left at 6:38 am. Images were also captured. On October 11, I observed Mercury and Jupiter 0.8 apart between 6:30 and 6:40 am EDT from the Maple Shade railroad tracks. They were initially found with 10x50 binoculars, then observed relatively easily with unaided eyes They were observed again (without optical aid) and imaged on October 12, around 6:30 am. I went to the Mart again on October 15 and saw Jupiter with unaided eyes as soon as I arrived at 6:20 am, but Mercury had not risen yet. I spotted it with 10x50 binoculars at 6:31 am, when it was at 0.9 altitude, 5 minutes after it rose (and 8.8 solar elongation). I left about 6:45 am and I could still pick out Jupiter in the brightening twilight, but I never  saw Mercury without binoculars. This will probably be the last attempt to spot Mercury before superior conjunction on October 27.

 

Elongation #6

The first sighting of the sixth elongation of the year was at 4:59 pm EDT on November 18, 2016, from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ, with 16x70 binoculars (it was not seen with unaided eyes). When first spotted just above the distant tree tops, magnitude -0.5 Mercury was at 2.3 altitude, 18 minutes after sunset at 4:41 pm. Mercury was spotted again on November 21 at 4:58 pm, and then it was used as a guide to spotting Saturn at 5:03 pm, 4.2 above Mercury (in both cases, with 16x70 binoculars. The third sighting of Mercury for this elongation was on December 15 at 5:20 pm EST from the Maple Shade baseball field complex with 10x50 binoculars (then immediately seen with unaided eyes). At the time, Mercury was at magnitude -0.16, 540' altitude and 1945' solar elongation. Within 5 minutes, several nearby stars of the "Teaspoon" asterism in Sagittarius (Pi, Omicron and Xi) were spotted with the binoculars. All sightings were made from inside the car through the window glass since it was 20F and windy ouitside.

________________

 

The current sighting streak is now 38 elongations in a row, starting in January 2011, which includes five complete calendar years of six or seven elongations each (click here for previous sightings). The purpose of this ongoing effort is not to set some sort of record, especially since I have no idea what sort of record might exist, but to demonstrate that locating and seeing Mercury is not nearly as difficult as many suppose. It just takes some planning and a little effort.

 

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Last Update: Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 05:39 PM Eastern Time