Tonight – that is before dawn breaks on these early November 2014 mornings – try to catch Mercury, the innermost planet. It’s up before dawn now, in the midst of its best morning apparition of the year, rising some 90 minutes before the sun at mid-northern latitudes. Mercury reaches its greatest angular distance from the rising sun on this date, November 1, 2014.
To see Mercury, find an unobstructed eastern horizon, and look low in the sky, starting around 90 to 75 minutes before sunrise. Although Mercury shines more brilliantly than most of the sky’s brightest stars, this planet’s luster is sometimes obscured in the murky glare of twilight. Binoculars come in handy for any Mercury search.
The bright star Arcturus, which is located by extending handle of the Big Dipper, serves as your guide star to Mercury now. At mid-northern latitudes, Arcturus rises roughly 40 minutes before Mercury does. Mercury resides about three fist-widths to the lower right of Arcturus, when holding your fist at an arm’s length.
On these November 2014 mornings, Mercury will rise a few minutes later each day. Thus it’ll appear lower in your sky as dawn breaks. On the other hand, as the days pass, Mercury will brighten slightly, somewhat compensating for its later rising time.
Mercury never strays far from the sun in Earth’s sky. If you can catch this world at all, it’s either visible in the western sky after sunset – or, at other times of the year, in the eastern sky before sunrise.
Right now, Mercury is moving away from Earth in its smaller, faster orbit around the sun. Yet this world is still brightening. Mercury is a rather unusual planet in the respect that it gets brighter when it travels away from Earth. That’s because Mercury’s phase waxes, or increases, as it goes farther from Earth, more than making up for its increased distance and diminished disk size.
However, Mercury is also falling closer to the glare of sunrise throughout November. So look for it soon!
Bottom line: Want to see Mercury? Take advantage right now, because Mercury reaches its greatest angular distance from the rising sun on November 1. For the Northern Hemisphere, the first week of November 2014 is about as good as it gets for catching Mercury in the morning sky.