Mercury Sightings - Details for 2024

Mercury has six elongations in 2024. The initial sighting by Joe Stieber for each of these is tabulated below:

Sequence

Initial Sighting Date (2023/4)

Observing Location

Greatest Elongation (2024)

1

December 30, 6:33 am EST, #83 Marter Ave, Mt Laurel, NJ

January 12, western (morning)

2

March 10, 7:21 pm EDT, #84 Thompson's Beach, NJ

March 24, eastern (evening)

3

   

May 9, western (morning)

4

   

July 22, eastern (evening)

5

   

September 4, western (morning)

6

   

November 16, eastern (evening)

7

   

December 24, western (morning)

  

Elongation #2

The first sighting of the second elongation for 2024 (the 84th elongation in a row overall) was on March 10, 2024, from Thompson's Beach, NJ, on the north shore of the Delaware Bay under a mixed sky that was building clouds along the horizon to the west. Ultimately there was a brief rain shower, followed by some clearing  in which I saw comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with 12x50 & 15x56 binoculars (including a vague tail). Mercury was spotted at 7:21 pm EDT with 15x56 binoculars through a clearing in ragged clouds above a solid bank of clouds along the horizon. I was hoping to catch a nominal 14 hour old Moon 3 below Mercury, but alas, the clouds dictated otherwise. Mercury was not seen with unaided eyes. When initially sighted, it was at 556′ altitude, 266 azimuth, magnitude -1.34, 5.4″ diameter and 91% illuminated. Solar elongation was 10.7 and the ecliptic was steeply tilted at a 74 angle to the horizon. Sunset was at 7:02 pm EDT, astronomical twilight ended at 8:31 pm.

The second sighting of the first elongation for 2024 was on March 11, 2024, from Wharton State Forest, NJ, a under clear sky, with just some thin haze along the western horizon. Mercury was first spotted at 7:09 pm EDT with an 88 mm spotting scope at 25x (a tiny disc was apparent at 60x), then at 7:11 pm with 15x56 binoculars. At 7:23 pm, it was glimpsed with unaided eyes and by time it reached the tree tops, it was visible steadily with unaided eyes. When initially sighted, Mercury was at 1007′ altitude, 264 azimuth, magnitude -1.25, 5.6″ diameter and 87% illuminated. Solar elongation was 12.4. Mercury's ecliptic latitude was 0 and the ecliptic was tilted 73 to the horizon. Sunset was at 7:02 pm and astronomical twilight ended at 8:32 pm. Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks was also sighted with the 88 mm scope and the 15x56 binocularss.

The third sighting of the first elongation for 2024 was on March 21, 2024, from Bishops Gate in Mt Laurel, NJ, under a clear sky. Mercury was first spotted at 7:45 pm EDT with unaided eyes through the car's side window. It was subsequently observed with 12x50 binoculars and a 115 mm spotting scope. It was last seen at the treetops with unaided eyes and the 12x50s at 8:32 pm. When initially sighted, Mercury was at 1145′ altitude, 273 azimuth, magnitude -0.53, 6.9″ diameter and 55% illuminated. Solar elongation was 18.2. Mercury's ecliptic latitude was +1.9 and the ecliptic was tilted 73 to the horizon. Sunset was at 7:13 pm and astronomical twilight ended at 8:44 pm. Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks was also spotted with a 115 mm spotting scope (a faint tail too) and just the coma with the 12x50s, despite the suburban location and a 91% Moon in the sky.

 

Elongation #1

The first sighting of the first elongation for 2024 (the 83rd elongation in a row overall) was on December 30, 2023, from Marter Ave in Mt Laurel, NJ, under a mostly clear sky, except for low clouds along  the eastern horizon. Mercury was spotted at 6:33 am EST with 12x50 binoculars after it rose into the broken clouds towards the top of the cloud bank. It was in Ophiuchus, 6 directly below Sabik (Eta Oph), with the Yeds (Delta & Epsilon Oph) being the starting point, then dropping down through Zeta Oph to Sabik. Here's an S&T chart. Mercury was followed into a clear sky with the 12x50s until 6:43 am (although the sky had become mostly mostly overcast with clouds moving in from the west by time I arrived home at 7:10 am). Mercury was not seen with unaided eyes. When initially sighted, it was at 453′ altitude, 121 azimuth, magnitude +1.01, 9.0″ diameter and 21% illuminated. Solar elongation was 16.0. Astronomical twilight began at 5:44 am and the Sun would rise at 7:21 am.

The second sighting of the first elongation for 2024 was on January 2, 2024, from Marter Ave in Mt Laurel, NJ, under a mostly clear sky. Mercury was first spotted at 6:19 am EST with 12x50 binoculars and immediately after with unaided eyes. It was still in Ophiuchus, 4.7 below Sabik (Eta Oph). Mercury was followed with unaided eyes until 6:48 am and last seen in the 12x50s at 6:53 am, when I gave up trying to spot mag +1.4 Mars in the orange twilight haze above the tree tops, 7.2 below Mercury. When initially sighted, Mercury was at 450′ altitude, 121 azimuth, magnitude +0.38, 8.3″ diameter and 33% illuminated. Solar elongation was 19.6. Astronomical twilight began at 5:44 am and the Sun would rise at 7:21 am.

The third sighting of the first elongation for 2024 was on January 8, 2024, from Marter Ave in Mt Laurel, NJ, under a clear sky. Mercury was first spotted at 5:47 am EST with an 88 mm spotting scope at 25x, then immediately afterwards with unaided eyes. It was still in Ophiuchus, 8.1 below Sabik (Eta Oph), Mercury was followed with unaided eyes until 6:46 am. When initially sighted, it was at 115′ altitude, 119 azimuth, magnitude -0.12, 7.2″ diameter and 53% illuminated. Solar elongation was 23.0. Astronomical twilight began at 5:45 am and the Sun would rise at 7:21 am.

On arrival at 4:50 am, brilliant Venus and the 12% waning crescent Moon were readily apparent with unaided eyes just above the treetops. Between 5:01 and 5:36 am, the Moon occulted magnitude 2.9 Alniyat, Sigma Sco. Magnitude +1.4 Mars was spotted at 6:36 am with the 88 mm scope at 25x in the orange twilight just above the tree tops, 1.5 altitude and 8.6 below Mercury. That evening at the WAS Barnegat Observing Site in the NJ Pines, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter and Uranus (from west to east) were observed, all with 15x56 binoculars, all but Saturn with a 12.5 inch Dob and all but Neptune with unaided eyes. So, all seven planets (eight counting earth) were observed on the same calendar day, January 8. In addition, two other solar system types were observed at Barnegat: the asteroid/minor planet (4) Vesta and comet 144P/Kushida; Vesta with the 15x56s and 12.5 inch, 144P with the 12.5 inch.

The fourth sighting of the first elongation for 2024 was on January 22, 2024, from the Thompson's Beach nature platform in Cumberland County, NJ, just off the north shore of the Delaware Bay near Maurice River Cove and East Point. The sky was clear down to the horizon and the temperature was a chilly 21F, although farther inland on the trip down and back, temperatures as low as 17F were noted on the car's thermometer. Brilliant Venus was sighted with unaided eyes on arrival at 5:07 am EST when it was 22 arc minutes altitude, although dimmed, woozy and reddish at that point. Dim Mars was sighted with an 88 mm spotting scope at 6:15 am using 25x, when it was 21 arc minutes altitude. Moderately bright Mercury was first spotted at 5:56 am with the 88 mm at 25x, then subsequently seen with unaided eyes. When initially seen, Mercury was at 000′ altitude (value from SkyTools set to the coordinates of Thompson's Beach; I suspect denser air from the cold temperature caused a little extra atmospheric refraction compared to the standard nominal amount). It was 119.5 azimuth, magnitude -0.23, 5.7″ diameter and 79% illuminated. Solar elongation was 21.7. Astronomical twilight began at 5:41 am and the Sun would rise at 7:15 am. Mercury and Mars were about 3.3 apart, so they both fit in the 4.5 field of the 15x56s.

The primary targets of the trip were (1) Omega Centauri, NGC 5139, which I picked it up at 5:14 am, easily with 15x56 binoculars. (2) I also spotted comet 62P/Tsuchinshan in Virgo, about 9 east of Denebola, with the 15x56s. Both of these were observed with the 88 mm scope too. Finally, and perhaps the most important target for this morning was (3) Supernova 2024gy in the galaxy NGC 4216, also in Virgo (just a few degrees from 62P). I think I saw it with the 88 mm on Jan 17; I unambiguously saw it my 115 mm spotting scope on Jan 20 (both occasions from Wharton State Forest), so I wanted to look again from the darker sky over the Delaware Bay. It required averted vision, but I feel confident that I genuinely saw it with the 88 mm this morning. Contemporaneous visual estimates at AAVSO were running about magnitude 12.8.

 

 

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The current streak is now 84 elongations in a row, starting the fourteenth calendar year of seeing Mercury at every elongation (beginning in January 2011). There are six or seven elongations per year. The years 2011, 2015, 2018 and 2022 each had seven (7) elongations, while 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2023 each had six (6). That's 82 elongations in 13 years, or an average of 6.3 elongations per year. 2024 will have seven elongations. Click here for sightings in 2023. The purpose of this ongoing effort is not to set some record, especially since I have no idea what sort of record might exist. My note to Gary Seronik that was published in S&T magazine (see on the 2022 Mercury page) yielded no responses. Regardless, it demonstrates that locating and seeing Mercury is not nearly as difficult as many suppose. It just takes a little planning and effort, although circumstances make some elongations easy and some difficult.

 

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Last Update: Friday, March 22, 2024 at 10:48 AM Eastern Time