StarDate: March 17, 2017
Venus and Mercury, A close pass in the evening sky
The Sun’s two closest planets are staging a switcheroo this month. Mercury is climbing higher into the evening sky, while Venus is dropping out of the evening sky. And if you look at just the right time, you can see them standing almost side by side the next few evenings.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. Since Earth is the third planet out, Mercury has a limited range of motion across our sky, so the little planet rarely climbs into really good view. At best, it’s visible for a little while before sunrise or after sunset, quite low above the horizon.
Mercury passed behind the Sun earlier this month. Now, it’s moving away from the Sun, so it’s climbing into the evening sky. In fact, this is its best evening appearance for the entire year. It’ll climb higher over the next few nights, making it easier to see.
Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It’s getting ready to cross between Earth and Sun, so it’s dropping lower in the sky each evening — ready to move into the morning sky in about a week.
For now, though, look for Venus quite low in the west beginning about 15 minutes after sunset. It’s the “evening star,” so if you have a clear horizon, you can’t miss it. Tonight, much fainter Mercury is close to its lower left, but you probably need binoculars to pluck it from the twilight glow. The two worlds will stand side by side tomorrow night, with Mercury climbing away from Venus — and into better view — on succeeding nights
Script by Damond Benningfield