Mercury Sightings - Details for 2020

Mercury has six elongations in 2020. The initial sighting by Joe Stieber for each of these is tabulated below:

Sequence

Initial Sighting Date (2020)

Observing Location

Greatest Elongation (2020)

#1

January 29, 5:40 pm EST Baseball Fields, Maple Shade, NJ

February 10, eastern (evening)

#2

March 16, 6:32 am EDT Swede Run, Moorestown, NJ

March 23, western (morning)

#3

   

June 4, eastern (evening)

#4

   

July 22, western (morning)

#5

   

October 1, eastern (evening)

#6

    November 10, western (morning)

  

 

Elongation #2

The first sighting of the second elongation for 2020 (the 59th elongation in a row overall) was on March 16, 2020 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was initially sighted in moderately bright twilight at 6:32 am EDT (sunrise would be at 7:09 am) using 15x56 binoculars, then seen a moment later with unaided eyes since it was moderately bright at magnitude +0.5. At the time, Mercury was at 4.4 altitude in Aquarius. Subsequently, I set up my 88 mm apo spotting scope and at 6:47 am was able to clearly see Mercury's thick crescent at 96x (using the standard 25 to 60x zoom eyepiece with a 1.6x extender). Mercury was 8.5" diameter, 39% illuminated and 7.6 altitude at the time.

While I had the scope set up, I also looked at several other solar system objects at 96x. From west to east, they were the third-quarter moon (nice crater detail), Mars (saw a ruddy disc), Jupiter (four Galilean satellites but the Great Red Spot was not on the visible face) and Saturn (nice rings, no Cassini Division). Jupiter and Mars both fit in the same 4.5 field of the 15x56s, and on March 18, the crescent moon will join them in the binocular field. Finally, at 7:15 am as I was leaving, I saw the orange sun just above the horizon peeking through the distant trees. I didn't look at the sun in the spotting scope, which is pictured below at Swede Run this morning (taken with an iPhone 5s).

Kowa 88 mm apo fluorite triplet spotting scope mounted on a Fotopro Eagle gimbal head
atop a Benro carbon fiber tripod. The 1.6x eyepiece extender is not installed in this view.
Click the picture for a larger version.

  

The second sighting of the second elongation for 2020 was on March 18, 2020, from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. It was seen in 15x56 binoculars for a few minutes starting about 6:25 am EDT, after rising above the tree tops and before disappearing into streaky clouds above the horizon, then afterwards being washed out by brightening twilight. When initially sighted, Mercury was at 3.7 altitude in Aquarius, magnitude +0.4 and 43% illuminated. Thanks to my observing companion, Howard S, for finding Mercury. I was having trouble because I was not in the same spot as I was on March 16 and and I didn't take the treeline parallax into account. Mercury spotting was largely incidental as we were there primarily to see the close grouping of Jupiter, Mars and the Crescent Moon (they all fit comfortably in the 4.5 field of the 15x56s), with Saturn not that far east of them. As of March 18, there are a couple of snapshots of the grouping at the top of my home page.

  

  

Elongation #1

The first sighting of the first elongation for 2020 (the 58th elongation in a row overall) was on January 29, 2020 from the Maple Shade, NJ, baseball field complex. It was initially sighted in moderately bright twilight at 5:40 pm EST (sunset was at 5:15 pm) using 15x56 binoculars, then seen a minute later with unaided eyes since it was fairly bright at magnitude -1.03. At the time, Mercury's altitude was 6.2 in eastern Capricornus (near Deneb Algedi, which was not visible in the twilight glow).

The second sighting of the first elongation for 2020 was on February 17, 2020 from Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ. The sky was surprisingly clear and magnitude +1.2 Mercury was initially spotted with 15x56 binoculars at 6:00 pm EST, 22 minutes after sunset, when it was at 8 altitude in Aquarius. Starting at 6:05 pm, I observed it with my 88 mm apo spotting scope at 96x (zoom eyepiece at 60x plus a 1.6x extender). The seeing was not good at the low altitude, so Mercury was woozy with much atmospheric chromatic aberration). It took some patience to resolve the crescent shape (18% illuminated at the time). The horns, or cusps, were pointed nearly straight up, so it looked like a smile. By 6:20 pm, at 5 altitude, the seeing had degraded to the point where I could no longer resolve the crescent. My last view was at 6:35 pm with the 15x56s as Mercury approached the tree tops.

 

 

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The current sighting streak is now 59 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 sightings in 2019. 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.

 

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Last Update: Monday, March 30, 2020 at 02:49 PM Eastern Time