Mercury Sightings - Details for 2019

Mercury has six elongations in 2019. The initial sighting by Joe Stieber for each of these is tabulated below:

Sequence

Initial Sighting Date (2019)

Observing Location

Greatest Elongation (2019)

#1

February 16, 6:15 pm EST Baseball Fields, Maple Shade, NJ

February 26, eastern (evening)

#2

March 27, 6:19 am EDT Swede Run, Moorestown, NJ

April 11, western (morning)

#3

June 3, 8:50 pm EDT Swede Run, Moorestown, NJ

June 23, eastern (evening)

#4

August 9, 5:05 am EDT Swede Run, Moorestown, NJ

August 9, western (morning)

#5

September 17, 7:15 pm EDT Baseball Fields, Maple Shade, NJ

October 20, eastern (evening)

#6

November 21, 6:00 am EST Swede Run, Moorestown, NJ November 28, western (morning)

The inferior conjunction of November 11, 2019, will produce a Transit of Mercury across the Sun, starting at 7:36 am and ending at 1:04 pm EST for a location of 40N-75W, nominally Philadelphia, PA. Here's Fred Espenak's transit page with a nice diagram of Mercury's path across the Sun, but note that Espenak's times compared to the Philadelphia times are about 37 seconds sooner at first contact and about 7 seconds sooner at last contact since his are geocentric. Also notice that because Mercury's path is tilted slightly compared to the ecliptic and does not cross the exact center of the solar disc, inferior conjunction (in right ascension) at 15:22 UT is a couple of minutes later than greatest transit. Inferior conjunction occurs at the point where a north-pointing line from the sun's center crosses Mercury's path. I've added links to versions of my observing report in the Transit of Mercury section below (between Elongations #5 and #6).

 

  

Elongation #6

The first sighting of the sixth elongation for 2019 (the 57th elongation in a row overall) was on November 21, 2019, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 5:49 am EST with unaided eyes as soon as I stepped out of the car on arrival. At the time, Mercury was at 4.8 altitude, 8.1" diameter, magnitude +0.27,  and 32% illuminated. During the approximate half-hour I was there, I also observed it with an 88 mm apo spotting scope at 60x and because of the poor seeing at the low altitude, it mainly looked like a seething oval. In occasional moments of steadier seeing, the shape looked like a quarter moon with a slightly concave terminator, somewhat like a miniature of the actual 24.3-day-old moon that was concurrently higher in the sky.

I also picked up Mars about 10.3 from Mercury at the 1 o'clock position at 5:49 am EST. At magnitude +1.7, it was just as easy to see as Mercury because it was against a darker sky, while magnitude +1.0 Spica was conspicuous 8 above Mars. I lost Mars after 6:05 am, but could still find Mercury, with difficulty, at 6:17 am when I left Swede Run.

Seeing Mercury and Mars completed a sweep of spotting the seven non-earth planets overnight (November 20/21). Venus and Jupiter were seen with unaided eyes out my kitchen window at 5:20 pm when clouds along the horizon broke up. I then stepped outside and saw Saturn at 5:22 pm with unaided eyes. I was back outside at home and with 15x56 binoculars, picked up Neptune at 8:36 pm and Uranus at 8:40 pm (transparency was poor, and it was completely cloudy when I went to the supermarket around 10 pm). Luckily, it was cloud-free and relatively transparent at 5:20 am when I awoke for Mercury (plus Mars).

Mercury at 6:00 am EST on November 21, 2019. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera + Canon 100 mm f/2.8L lens (on a fixed tripod) then cropped to 48% of the original linear dimensions for a field 9.9 wide x 6.6 high. Exposed 1/40 second at f/2.8, ISO 12,800, daylight white balance. Mercury was 6.7 altitude at the time. Mercury has now been imaged at each of the six elongations in 2019.

 

The second sighting of the sixth elongation for 2019 was on November 25, 2019, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 5:57 am EST with unaided eyes through the car's windshield on arrival. At the time, Mercury was at 7.4 altitude, 7.2" diameter, magnitude -0.31, and 50% illuminated. Out of the car, it was really easy to see, in contrast to the previous evening elongation (due to the steep angle of the morning ecliptic compared to the shallow angle of the evening ecliptic this time of the year). During the approximate half-hour I was there, I also observed the old crescent moon, about 28 days old since the previous new moon (Oct 28, 4:38 am EDT) and about 28 hours before the next new moon (Nov 26, 10:03 am EDT). The earthshine was sublime, as shown in the image below..

Mercury at 6:03 am EST on November 25, 2019. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera + Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens (on a fixed tripod), uncropped for a field 10.3 wide x 6.9 high. Exposed 1/30 second at f/2.8, ISO 12,800, daylight white balance, mildly adjusted with Canon's Digital Photo Professional. Mercury was 8.5 altitude at the time, the moon 4.3 altitude.

 

The third sighting of the sixth elongation for 2019 was on December 8, 2019, from my front yard in Maple Shade, NJ. It was initially sighted in brightening twilight at 6:10 am EST with a casual glance between houses across the street as I walked from the driveway to the front step. I had just returned from a trip to Carranza Field to look for comet C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS), which was unsuccessful, when I realized I should have stopped at Swede Run on the way back to look for Mercury. Since I missed that opportunity, I took a quick look and found it easily anyway. At the time, Mercury was at 4.7 altitude, 119 azimuth, magnitude -0.57, 5.5" diameter and 84% illuminated.

 

 

Transit of Mercury

The transit of Mercury was observed on November 11, 2019, initially at Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ (first and second contacts) and then at Merchantville, NJ (third and fourth contacts) where I joined a friend who was imaging the transit. Here's a report with contact timings (last edited 17-Nov-2019), a version w/o site photos and a version with the original photos and a couple of supplemental solar images (last edited 20-Nov-2019).

 

 

Elongation #5

The first sighting of the fifth elongation for 2019 (the 56th elongation in a row overall) was on September 17, 2019, from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ. It was initially sighted at 7:15 pm EDT with an 88 mm apo spotting scope at 25x by virtue of being 2.1 east of Venus. Mercury was magnitude -0.67, 4.9" diameter, 94% illuminated, 3.4 altitude, 266 azimuth and 11.5 from the sun. Venus was magnitude -3.9, but not obvious against bright twilight -- it was first sighted in 15x56 binoculars at 6:57 pm while sunset was at 7:06 pm. Venus was not seen with unaided eyes, and Mercury wasn't seen with unaided eyes or with the 15x56s before it sank beneath the tree line at 7:19 pm. Except for a few wispy clouds along the western horizon, the sky was quite clear at the time. Alerted by a phone call at 7:25 pm as I was looking at Jupiter in the spotting scope (I saw the Great Red Spot at 60x), there was an oddly-colored sky in the west due to volcanic aerosols, there was a purple tinge above the salmon-orange arc above the setting point. There were also some nice crepuscular rays in the northwest (truly crepuscular as it was after sunset).

The image below was captured two days earlier, on September 15, 2019, at the baseball field complex. At the time, Mercury was not seen with binoculars (and I hadn't taken the spotting scope), so it doesn't count towards the visual sighting streak. It's barely visible in the heavily cropped segment below...

Mercury at 7:17 pm EDT on September 15, 2019. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera + Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens (on a fixed tripod) then cropped to 2% of the original linear dimensions for a field 0.21 wide x 0.14 high. Exposed 1/400 second at f/3.5, ISO 100, and mildly adjusted to enhance the visibility of Mercury. The large dark object on the left is one of the light fixtures that illuminate the distant football field (the original full-size image showing the entire sets of lights is on this SJAstro page, scroll down). Mouseover for a label.

The second sighting of the fifth elongation for 2019 was on September 25, 2019, from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ. This was the first binocular sighting this elongation. Using the 15x56s, Venus was picked up at 6:55 pm EDT, two minutes after sunset, then Mercury, dim against bright twilight, was picked up at 7:04 pm, 5.1 southeast of Venus (roughly at the apparent 9:30 o'clock position). Neither planet was seen with unaided eyes. At the time of initial sighting, Mercury was magnitude -0.34, 5.1" diameter, 89% illuminated, 4.3 altitude, 256 azimuth and 16.5 from the sun.

The third sighting of the fifth elongation for 2019 was on October 14, 2019, from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ. Initially, Venus was sighted at 6:18 pm EDT (sunset would be at 6:22 pm) with 15x56 binoculars at 8 altitude. Venus was subsequently glimpsed with unaided eyes at 6:32 pm. In between, I set up the 88 mm apo spotting scope to look for Mercury, 8 from Venus at the 9:30 o'clock position, at 25x. Mercury was spotted at 6:34 pm (then a minute later with the 15x56s) when it was at magnitude -0.09, 71% illuminated, 6.1 altitude, 239.5 azimuth and 24 from the sun (but the ecliptic is still at an unfavorably shallow angle to the horizon, plus Mercury currently has a -2.5 ecliptic latitude, so the increased elongation isn't yielding much of an altitude component).

I had a couple of bonuses while looking towards the relatively bright, orange-ish twilight along the horizon towards the west-southwest. There were no crepuscular rays (the sky was clear and cloud free), but there was a somewhat lavender glow above the orange for 10 or 15 minutes between 6:30 and 6:45 pm (due to volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere). But the real surprise was a bird sighting on the cell phone tower 2,080 ft away in the west-southwest (distance measured on a Google map). With unaided eyes, I saw a bird-like hump at the top-right, which was indeed a large bird in the 15x56s, so I put the spotter on it at 6:27 pm. Immediately, I saw a massive hooked beak, and with the magnification raised to 60x, I could see a white head, and when it turned, a white tail it was clearly an adult Bald Eagle. The Kowa 88 mm apo scope did a splendid job of showing the white head and tail at this distance while backlit against bright twilight. I then noticed a second adult Bald Eagle on the left side (again, a white head and tail). Shortly after, a third suspected Eagle flew at the second bird, chasing it off the tower. The shape of #3 was consistent with a Bald Eagle, but during the brief flyby, I couldn't confirm a white head or tail. The first bird flew off at 6:40 pm, but at 6:45 pm, just before I packed up, an Eagle had returned to the tower. Can't tell if it was one of the original three birds, or if a separate fourth Eagle had alighted. In any case, I definitely saw two adult Bald Eagles, probably a third, and less likely, a fourth. I've now seen four (maybe five or six) Bald Eagles from Maple Shade during the past several years.

The fourth sighting of the fifth elongation for 2019 was on October 24, 2019, from the baseball field complex in Maple Shade, NJ. Initially, Venus was sighted at 6:05 pm EDT (sunset would be at 6:08 pm) with 15x56 binoculars at 6.4 altitude. Venus was subsequently glimpsed with unaided eyes at 6:18 pm. I set up the 88 mm apo spotting scope to look for Mercury, 5.8 from Venus at the 8:30 o'clock position. Mercury was spotted at 6:24 pm when it was at magnitude +0.04, 52% illuminated, 7.9 altitude, 232.6 azimuth and 24 from the sun (the ecliptic remains at an unfavorably shallow angle to the horizon, plus Mercury currently has a -3.1 ecliptic latitude). I wanted to see the nominally half-illuminated disc in the scope. At 60x, Mercury didn't look quite like half a disc; rather, it appeared elongated elongated in a 7 to 1 o'clock orientation due to poor seeing at the low altitude (there was also significant atmospheric chromatic aberration). This corresponded with the tilt of the terminator shown in a WinJUPOS representation of Mercury's disc. After locating it with the scope, Mercury was easily seen with 15x56 binoculars, but it wasn't seen with unaided eyes. Finally, I saw a pair of adult Bald Eagles again on the distant cell phone tower in the spotting scope.

 

 

Elongation #4

The first sighting of the fourth elongation for 2019 (the 55th elongation in a row overall) was on August 9, 2019, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 5:05 am EDT with unaided eyes, following a slightly bent line about 10 down from Castor and Pollux. Mercury was magnitude +0.20, 7.7" diameter, 38% illuminated, 4.5 altitude and 69 azimuth. I then observed it with my 88 mm spotting scope at 60x. I was able to see that it was a thick crescent, since in moments of better (but not good) seeing, the terminator looked concave. Mercury was 19 from the sun, its greatest elongation for this apparition.

The second sighting of the fourth elongation for 2019 was on August 10, 2019, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 4:55 am EDT with 10x50 binoculars and then immediately with unaided eyes. Mercury was magnitude +0.04, 7.4" diameter, 42% illuminated, 3.1 altitude and 67 azimuth. I was able to see it with unaided eyes until 5:40 am when I left Swede Run (sunrise would be at 6:07 am). In the meantime, I took some snapshots, here's one taken at 5:12 am...

Mercury at 5:12 am EDT on August 10, 2019. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera + Canon 200 mm f/2.8L lens (on a fixed tripod) for a field 10.3 wide x 6.9 high (not cropped). Exposed 1/8 second at f/8, ISO 12,800 (not processed).

The third sighting of the fourth elongation for 2019 was on August 11, 2019, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. Mercury was initially spotted at 4:55 am EDT with unaided eyes as soon as I stepped out of the car. It was magnitude -0.11, 7.2" diameter, 45% illuminated, 3.0 altitude and 67 azimuth. After spotting it, I did not dwell at Swede Run as I was on the way home from observing Perseid meteors at Atsion in the Pines.

 

Elongation #3

The first sighting of the third elongation for 2019 (the 54th elongation in a row overall) was on June 3, 2019 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 8:50 pm EDT with 15x56 binoculars, but it wasn't confirmed until 9:10 pm because of initial confusion with Alnath (Beta Tauri), 6.6 from Mercury. Alnath was first spotted at the nominal azimuth for Mercury as indicated by my handheld compass. I continued to watch it drop on a diagonal path, never very bright through murky clouds above the western horizon. However, there was a pesky bright object just over a binocular field above-left of the presumed Mercury that I couldn't seem to identify. Finally, at 9:10 pm, when other objects were located in the darkening sky (Procyon, Mars, Castor & Pollux, Capella and the Kids), it suddenly became self-evident that the bright pesky object was actually Mercury (I should have realized this sooner!). I was then able to see Mercury with unaided eyes above the tree tops. At 8:50 pm, Mercury was magnitude -0.9 (80% illuminated), 8.3 altitude at 297 azimuth and 15 from the sun. By 9:10 pm, it was 5 altitude at 300 azimuth.

The second sighting of the third elongation for 2019 was on June 11, 2019 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 9:17 pm EDT with 15x56 binoculars (magnitude -0.2, 62% illuminated, 8.3 altitude, 296 azimuth, 21.6 from the sun), then with unaided eyes at 9:20 pm. I then set up the camera for the snapshot below.

Mercury at 9:41 pm EDT on June 11, 2019. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera + Canon 70 to 200 mm f/2.8L zoom lens (on a fixed tripod) set to 200 mm focal length for a field 8.1 wide x 6.6 high. Exposed 1/2 second at f/2.8, ISO 1600.

The third sighting of the third elongation for 2019 was on June 14, 2019 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 9:17 pm EDT with 10x50 binoculars (magnitude 0.0, 52% illuminated, 9.1 altitude, 294 azimuth, 23.1 from the sun), then immediately with unaided eyes in a clear sky.

The fourth sighting of the third elongation for 2019 was on June 21, 2019 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 9:15 pm EDT with 15x56 binoculars through a gap in the clouds along the western horizon. Mars was 1.8 from Mercury, so they easily fit in the same binocular field and they were intermittently visible for a couple of minutes as the cloud gap moved. At 9:15 pm, Mercury was at magnitude +0.44, 43% illuminated, 9.7 altitude, 291 azimuth and 25.0 from the sun. Increasing clouds continued to cover the entire sky by time I left at 9:50 pm, but in another cloud gap, I spotted nearby Castor and Pollux at 9:30 pm with the 15x56s.

The fifth sighting of the third elongation for 2019 was on June 22, 2019 from Atsion in Wharton State Forest, NJ. It was initially sighted in a clear sky at 9:30 pm EDT with 15x56 binoculars then immediately seen with unaided eyes. Mars was also in the same binocular field, 2.2 from Mercury, and was ultimately glimpsed with unaided eyes before it sank behind the tree tops. Nearby Castor and Pollux were also seen in the 15x56s, then glimpsed with unaided eyes. At 9:30 pm, Mercury was at magnitude +0.51, 41% illuminated, 6.6 altitude, 293 azimuth and 25.1 from the sun.

 

Elongation #2

The first sighting of the second elongation for 2019 (the 53rd elongation in a row overall) was on March 27, 2019 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 6:19 am EDT with 15x56 binoculars, but not with unaided eyes since the relatively dim planet (magnitude +1.5, just 19% illuminated) was in relatively bright twilight (sunrise at 6:52 am). Although Mercury was more than 20 from the sun, the ecliptic was at a shallow 28 angle to the horizon at the time, so it was only at 3.0 altitude (98 azimuth).

The second sighting of the second elongation for 2019 was on April 3, 2019 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted at 6:08 am EDT with 15x56 binoculars, but not easily seen and not a hint with unaided eyes since the not-bright planet (magnitude +0.76, 34% illuminated) was in fairly bright twilight (sunrise at 6:41 am). Although Mercury was almost 26 from the sun, the ecliptic was at a shallow 27 angle to the horizon at the time, so it was only at 4.0 altitude (100 azimuth).

Mercury at 6:16 am EDT on April 3, 2019. Taken with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless digital camera + Canon 100 f/2.8L macro lens, then cropped to 25% of the original size for a field 5.2 wide x 3.5 high. Exposed 1/80 second at f/2.8, ISO 400, daylight white balance.

 

 

Elongation #1

The first sighting of the first elongation for 2019 (the 52nd elongation in a row overall) was on February 16, 2019 from the Maple Shade, NJ, baseball field complex. It was initially sighted at 6:15 pm EST with 15x56 binoculars, and then immediately seen with unaided eyes since it was fairly bright at magnitude -1.1 in the middle-twilight sky (sunset was at 5:37 pm). At the time, Mercury was at 5.0 altitude and 0.4 from Lambda Aquarii (Hydor).

Mercury and Lambda Aquarii (above-right of Mercury) at 6:24 pm EST on February 16, 2019. Taken with a Canon 7D Mk II + Tamron 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 zoom at 400 mm (3.1 x 2.1 field). Exposed 1/3 second at f/5.6, ISO 800, daylight white balance.

 

The second sighting of the first elongation for 2019 was on February 25, 2019 from the Maple Shade, NJ, baseball field complex. Mercury was initially sighted at 6:22 pm EST with unaided eyes through the car window. It was still fairly bright at magnitude -0.5 in the middle-twilight sky (sunset was at 5:47 pm). At the time, Mercury was at 10.3 altitude. Subsequently, Mars was sighted with unaided eyes about 6:30 pm at 48 altitude, then dropping down 8 from there, Uranus was seen with 15x56 binoculars. Here's an observing report, which includes the baseball field session as well a session at Carranza Field later that night.

The third sighting of the first elongation for 2019 was on March 4, 2019 from the Maple Shade, NJ, baseball field complex. Mercury was initially sighted at 6:22 pm EST with 15x56 binoculars. It was at 9.9 altitude and had dimmed to magnitude +0.9. It was not evident with unaided eyes at the time in twilight (astronomical twilight would end at 7:25 pm). I then set up my 80 mm, f/6 apo refractor and at 6:30 pm, was able to discern Mercury's 22% illuminated crescent with a 4.7 mm eyepiece (102x), 8.4 altitude. Seeing was poor, and there was significant atmospheric chromatic aberration, so it was more like a colorful, woozy horizontal banana rather than a crisp crescent. By 6:35 pm, 7.4 altitude, I was able to see Mercury with unaided eyes, although it was much dimmer than the previous two sightings. I last saw it at 6:50 pm, 4.6 altitude, after I packed up the scope. Also about 6:50 pm, I was also able to see Mars with unaided eyes, and with 15x56 binoculars, Uranus about 12.6 below Mars. However, I didn't use Mars to find Uranus. Instead, I followed Hamal and Sheratan in Aries down to Eta Psc, then over to Omicron Psc, then up to Uranus. I was also able to spot M31 by swinging right from Aries to Mirach (Beta And) then on to M31.

 

________________

 

The current sighting streak is now 57 elongations in a row, starting in January 2011, which includes nine complete calendar years of six or seven elongations each. The years 2011, 2015 and 2018 each had seven (7) elongations, while 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 each had six (6). 2020 will have six (6). 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, although circumstances make some elongations easy and some difficult.

 

Return to the SJAstro home page.

 

Last Update: Saturday, January 11, 2020 at 01:23 PM Eastern Time