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

May 15, 8:19 pm EDT Collins Lane Park, Maple Shade, NJ

June 4, eastern (evening)

#4

   

July 22, western (morning)

#5

   

October 1, eastern (evening)

#6

    November 10, western (morning)

  

Elongation #3

The seventh sighting of the third elongation for 2020 was on June 13, 2020, initially with an 88 mm apo spotting scope, 40x, at 9:09 pm EDT under cloud-free skies from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ. At the time Mercury was at 7.4 altitude, magnitude +1.6, 10" apparent diameter and 19% illuminated. It was seen a minute later with 15x56 binoculars, but not glimpsed (briefly) with unaided eyes until 9:25 pm near the top of a distant tree. Upon arrival at Collins, I picked up Castor and Pollux as a guide to finding Mercury, and at 96x (I was using the 1.6x extender), Castor was a clean split, but my final look at 9:30 pm before packing up showed Castor's pair as a blob. When I first saw Mercury in the scope at 96x, it was vacillating between an oval and a banana shape with fluctuations in the seeing, but it too had degraded to a blob on the final view.

Since I had already seen Mercury, I decided I would continue and try to spot all seven (7) of the of the major planets overnight. With that in mind, I headed to Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, for its low horizon. I arrived at 4:03 am EDT and immediately saw Jupiter, Saturn and Mars (as well the waning crescent moon, about a day past third quarter) with unaided eyes. With Mars as a guide, Neptune was readily found with 15x56 binoculars about 1.7 above Mars. Uranus would have been easy to spot and identify, even though it was only about 10 altitude at the time, except there was a slow-moving, streaky horizontal cloud across the respective patch of sky, all the while, twilight was brightening. It was difficult to get Uranus along with some nearby field stars in a cloud-free view at the same time. Finally, at 4:17 am, there was an opening and I could see 29 Ari to the left of Uranus and Xi Ari at the top of an arc of stars below-right of Uranus. The last planet to be found, Venus, was initially sighted just above the tree tops on the camera viewing screen at 4:50 am when I was setting it up, then I looked up and saw it with unaided eyes. I could still see Venus with unaided eyes in bright twilight at 5:10 am when I left. If I counted earth, it would be #8, but I'm excluding (134340) Pluto.

The sixth sighting of the third elongation for 2020 was on June 9, 2020, initially with 15x56 binoculars at 9:05 pm EDT under cloud-free skies from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ. At the time Mercury was at 10.2 altitude, magnitude +1.1, 9.2" apparent diameter and 26% illuminated. It was seen a minute later in the 88 mm apo spotting scope and several minutes later with unaided eyes.  Mercury's location was confirmed by the 3rd magnitude star Mebsuta (Epsilon Gem), about 2.5 away at the 3:30 o'clock position, and in the spotting scope, I saw the magnitude 5.7 star HD 49968 8 arc minutes to the right of Mercury. In the 88 mm apo spotting scope at 60x, Mercury's crescent looked like a fat banana in moments of better seeing, but at the low altitude, seeing was never good in the absolute sense. My last view of Mercury was at 9:32 pm with unaided eyes, a dim speck just above a tree top.

The fifth sighting of the third elongation for 2020 was on June 6, 2020, initially with 15x56 binoculars at 9:16 pm EDT from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ, when Mercury was at 9.3 altitude, magnitude +0.8, 8.6" apparent diameter and 32% illuminated. It was seen shortly after with unaided eyes. The initial sighting was delayed by scattered clouds in the northwest, but Mercury finally emerged from them, its location confirmed by the 3rd magnitude star Mebsuta (Epsilon Gem), 54 arc minutes away at the 2:30 o'clock position. I then set up the 88 mm apo spotting scope in an effort to see the crescent; however, at 60x, poor seeing afforded only a seething diagonal oval shape.

The fourth sighting of the third elongation for 2020 was on May 30, 2020, initially with unaided eyes at 9:05 pm EDT from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ, when Mercury was 11.3 altitude, magnitude +0.2, 7.4" apparent diameter and 47% illuminated. I then saw it again at Swede Run in Moorestown, NJ, at about 9:25 pm with unaided eyes (not difficult to see min deepening twilight). My primary goal at Swede Run was to observe the passes of the ISS and the Crew Dragon spacecraft on its maiden voyage with astronauts aboard (launched at 3:22 pm that afternoon). Those objects were seen about 9:50 pm and 9:55 pm respectively, despite Heavens-Above and other satellite tracking utilities getting the Dragon time and track wrong. Ultimately, we found the Dragon following the ISS path a minute or two behind it.

The third sighting of the third elongation for 2020 was on May 26, 2020, was at Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ. My primary goal was to observe the Venus, just 8 days before inferior conjunction on June 3, 2020. Venus was acquired with 10x50 binoculars at 8:18 pm EDT, then with unaided eyes at 8:26 pm (there were pesky cloud steaks just above the horizon in the WNW). I had it in my 88 mm apo spotting scope at 8:28 pm. At 60x, the exquisitely thin crescent (2.2% illuminated) was sublime. Mercury was first spotted in the 10x50s about 8:40 pm, but I couldn't confirm it since I left my smartphone, with SkySafari, in the car. Alnath and Zeta Tauri, the stars marking the horn tips of Taurus, were nearby, so I wanted to get an exact chart for reference. When I had a SkySafari in front of me, I was able to confirm Mercury. At 8:40 pm, Mercury was 14.4 altitude, magnitude -0.2, 56% illuminated and 6.8" apparent diameter. In the scope at 60x, Mercury had a tinge of yellow color (especially compared to Alnath) and looked a little oval in shape. Finally, I was able to see it with unaided eyes at 8:53 pm, although it required some effort.

The second sighting of the third elongation for 2020 was on May 21, 2020 with unaided eyes from the north end of my street at 9:00 pm EDT. At the time, magnitude -0.6 Mercury was 1.2 below-left of brilliant Venus, so it was easy to locate. They were about 9 and 8 altitude, which is why I had to go to the end of the street for a clear sightline. In 10x42 binoculars, I could see that Venus was a crescent (against moderately bright twilight), while Venus, Mercury and the star Alnath all fit in the field of view.

The first sighting of the third elongation for 2020 (the 60th elongation in a row overall) was on May 15, 2020 from Collins Lane Park in Maple Shade, NJ. It was initially sighted in relatively bright twilight at 8:19 pm EDT (sunset was at 8:09 pm) using 15x56 binoculars, then seen with unaided eyes at 8:38 pm. Mercury was 5.9 arc seconds diameter, 85% illuminated and magnitude -1.1. At first sighting, Mercury was at 9.6 altitude in Taurus, near Alnath (Beta Tauri). Subsequently, I set up my 88 mm apo spotting scope and saw just a bright dot (too small and too low to show any detail). Mercury disappeared into a cloud just above the tree in the snapshot below at 8:47 pm. This snapshot was taken at 8:42 pm with a Canon EOS RP mirrorless camera, a Canon 100 mm, f/2.8L macro lens (on a fixed tripod) then cropped to a field 5.9 wide x 3.4 high. It was exposed 1/8 second at f/2.8, ISO 200, daylight white balance.

 

 

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 60 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: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at 12:33 AM Eastern Time