if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, tonight (February 1, 2014) presents a great opportunity for catching Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, often called the most elusive planet. Tonight, Mercury will appear close to the thin waxing crescent moon, which is only now returning to the evening sky. In North America, Mercury is found directly below tonight’s moon. At mid-northern latitudes in Europe and Asia, the moon sits lower down in the sky and closer to Mercury. Look for them low in the west some 60 to 75 minutes after sunset tonight. Do you have binoculars? If so, start your search even sooner.
Southerly latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere will have a tougher time catching the moon and Mercury. At mid-southern latitudes, the moon and Mercury lurk to the side of the sun at sunset, so these worlds set quite soon after the sun. In contrast, mid-northern latitudes find the moon and Mercury pretty much straight above the sun at sunset, so they set way later after sunset than at southerly latitudes.
Follow these simple instructions to view the moon and Mercury hovering over the western horizon at dusk and/or nightfall: First, find a level and unobstructed western horizon, remembering that west is in the direction of sunset. If you have a clear sky, the moon and Mercury should be visible (at northerly and tropical latitudes) to the unaided eye about 60 minutes (or sooner) after sunset. But if you can’t see these two worlds with the eye alone, by all means use binoculars to get an eyeful of the attractive couple, the young moon and Mercury low in the western dusk after sundown!
Look for the young lunar crescent and the planet Mercury in the western twilight after sunset on February 1. Mercury should remain a fine evening object for another several days!
Bottom line: On February 1, 2014, people around the globe will see the young moon – a slim crescent in the west after sunset – just now returning to the evening sky. The planet Mercury is near tonight’s moon.