logo
g Text Version
Beauty & Self
Books & Music
Career
Computers
Education
Family
Food & Wine
Health & Fitness
Hobbies & Crafts
Home & Garden
Money
News & Politics
Relationships
Religion & Spirituality
Sports
Travel & Culture
TV & Movies

dailyclick
Bored? Games!
Nutrition
Postcards
Take a Quiz
Rate My Photo

new
European Travel
Action Movies
Bible Basics
Houseplants
Romance Movies
Creativity
Family Travel


dailyclick
All times in EST

Full Schedule
g
g Astronomy Site

BellaOnline's Astronomy Editor

g

Absolute Beginners - Seeing Mercury and Venus


Before telescopes were invented, people knew only five planets, the ones we call Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The names were given by the Romans to honor their gods. You can see any of these five with your unaided eye, but this article is to help you to find and recognize Mercury and Venus.

Elusive Mercury
Mercury is the most elusive of the planets we can see with the unaided eye, because it is always close to the Sun. This means that if it's visible, it will be low on the horizon. So if you live in a built-up area, you need to find a spot with a clear horizon in order to look for it.

The best seasons for viewing Mercury are spring and fall. In the spring it's low on the horizon shortly after sunset and in the fall it's low on the horizon before sunrise. You can get predictions of its visibility from websites such as the excellent one run by Sky & Telescope or look for it on a sky chart at Heavens-above.com.

The best way to find Mercury in the evening sky is to use binoculars. Start scanning the western horizon with binoculars shortly after sunset. Never try this before the Sun has set - you donít want to risk looking accidentally at the Sun, which can permanently damage your eyesight.

Through binoculars, Mercury looks like a bright, slightly orange star. Once youíve found it with binoculars, you can continue to follow it with the unaided eye as the sky darkens, until it finally sinks too low.

The planet itself is like a larger version of our Moon, with a rocky surface covered in craters caused by impacting meteors. A space probe called Messenger is currently investigating it in detail.

Dazzling Venus
One planet youíll have no difficulty spotting is Venus, named after the goddess of love, which is by far the brightest of the planets. In fact, youíve probably seen it many times without realizing it. Itís the brilliant object popularly termed the evening or morning star, shining in the twilight for some hours after sunset or before sunrise.

Because of its brightness itís also frequently mistaken for a hovering UFO. One famous person who made this mistake was Jimmy Carter, at that time still governor of Georgia, but later to become President of the USA.

Venus appears so bright for two reasons. Firstly, it comes closer to us than any other planet, and secondly itís covered in thick clouds that reflect most of the sunlight hitting them.

As Venus goes around the Sun, it shows phases like those of the Moon. Venus is actually at its brightest when itís a crescent, shortly before or after passing between us and the Sun. You can see the crescent shape through binoculars (if held steadily) and small telescopes, but because of the clouds that envelop the planet you wonít see anything else. Space probes have shown us that the surface of Venus is far from heavenly - itís a volcanic desert with roastingly hot temperatures.

Mercury and Venus are sometimes called the inferior planets. This doesn't reflect any earthly snobbery. They simply orbit closer to the Sun than Earth does. All of the other planets are superior planets because their orbits are farther away from the Sun than ours.

Do planets twinkle?
Itís often said that planets donít twinkle like stars, but thatís not strictly true. Stars twinkle because their light is broken up by air currents as it passes through the Earthís atmosphere. Planets, on the other hand, arenít points of light like stars, but have small disks. This reduces the amount of twinkling, but doesn't always get rid of it entirely. When a bright planet is low on the horizon it does twinkle slightly, but much less than a star would.

Follow Me on Pinterest
Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Twitter Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Facebook Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to MySpace Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Del.icio.us Digg Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Yahoo My Web Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Google Bookmarks Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Stumbleupon Add Absolute+Beginners+%2D+Seeing+Mercury+and+Venus to Reddit




Absolute Beginners - Start Observing
Venus Facts for Kids
Mercury Facts for Kids
RSS
Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map


For FREE email updates, subscribe to the Astronomy Newsletter


Past Issues


print
Printer Friendly
bookmark
Bookmark
tell friend
Tell a Friend
forum
Forum
email
Email Editor


Content copyright © 2014 by Mona Evans. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mona Evans. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Mona Evans for details.

g


g features
Carrington Event Ė Biggest Solar Storm on Record

William Herschel

Star-gazing Ė Seeing in Dim Light

Archives | Site Map

forum
Forum
email
Contact

Past Issues
memberscenter


vote
Poetry
Daily
Weekly
Monthly
Less than Monthly



BellaOnline on Facebook
g


| About BellaOnline | Privacy Policy | Advertising | Become an Editor |
Website copyright © 2014 Minerva WebWorks LLC. All rights reserved.


BellaOnline Editor