Look westward after sunset on June 1, 2014 to see the waxing crescent moon and brilliant planet Jupiter lighting up the evening twilight. If it’s at all clear, it’ll be hard to miss them, because the moon and Jupiter are so bright! They are the brightest and second-brightest celestial bodies in the June 2014 evening sky.
Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system, won’t be so easy to spot, but you can find it, too, if you look. This world stays out for about 90 minutes after sunset at mid-northern latitudes right now, although it is not particularly bright. In fact, Jupiter outshines Mercury by over 20 times at present. Moreover, Mercury lurks closer to the glare of evening twilight and sets sooner after the sun. So start your planet search soon after sunset, if you want to see Mercury.
To see Mercury, first find an unobstructed western horizon. Then use the moon’s bow-shaped crescent, which points in the general direction of Mercury. Depending on how clear your sky is, you might – or might not – need binoculars to spot Mercury near the horizon. However, binoculars enable you to catch this planet all the sooner after sunset. Possibly, you’ll see this world around 60 to 75 minutes after sundown.
After this evening, Mercury will come closer and closer to Earth, until it swings in between the Earth and sun on June 19, 2014. This passage will take Mercury out of our evening sky and into our morning sky.
Mercury is an unusual planet in that it dims as it gets closer to Earth. The reason is that Mercury orbits the sun closer in than Earth. As seen from Earth, it shows phases, like our moon. In the weeks before its June 19 passage between us and the sun, Mercury’s shrinking phase will cause this rocky world to lose its luster.
Bottom line: Use the bright waxing moon and planet Jupiter to help you locate Mercury in early June. Mercury will soon disappear into the glare of evening twilight and will pass between the Earth and sun on June 19.