Tonight

Mercury at night: Greatest elongation is April 29

Chart showing Mercury at evening elongation, with Orion and Pleiades.
Mercury in late April 2022, Northern Hemisphere. Mercury will be near the dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster – aka the Seven Sisters – in mid- to late April 2022. In addition, you’ll also notice the bright red star Aldebaran, Eye of the Bull in the constellation Taurus. The 3 noticeable Belt stars of the constellation Orion are nearby. Chart via John Jardine Goss.

For the Northern Hemisphere, Mercury’s best evening apparition of 2022 is now.

When to watch: Mercury will come into view after sunset in mid-April and be gone again by mid-May. Also, greatest elongation – when Mercury will be farthest from the sunset – is late April.
Where to look: Look in the sunset direction, as the sky is darkening.
Greatest elongation is 8 UTC on April 29, 2022.
Note: As the innermost planet, Mercury is tied to the sun in our sky. As a result, it never ventures very far above the horizon after sunset. As soon as the sun disappears below your horizon, the clock starts ticking. So, will you see the glowing point of light that is Mercury before it follows the setting sun?

At greatest elongation in April 2022:

– Mercury’s distance from sun on the sky’s dome is 21 degrees.
– Mercury shines at magnitude 0.3
– Through a telescope, Mercury appears 36% illuminated, in a waxing crescent phase, 8 arcseconds across.

For precise sun and Mercury rising times at your location:

Old Farmer’s Almanac (U.S. and Canada)
Timeanddate.com (worldwide).
Stellarium (online planetarium program)

Mercury events in 2022 and 2023

Jul 16, 2022: Superior conjunction (passes behind sun as seen from Earth)
Aug 27, 2022: Greatest elongation (evening)
Sep 23, 2022: Inferior conjunction (races between Earth and sun)
Oct 8, 2022: Greatest elongation (morning)
Nov 8, 2022: Superior conjunction (passes behind sun as seen from Earth)
Dec 21, 2022: Greatest elongation (evening)
Jan 7, 2023: Inferior conjunction (races between Earth and sun)
Jan 30, 2023: Greatest elongation (morning)
Mar 17, 2023: Superior conjunction (passes behind sun from Earth)
Apr 11, 2023: Greatest elongation (evening)

Heliocentric view of Mercury April 2022

White chart with black lettering, showing planets paths during April 2022.
View larger. | Heliocentric view of solar system in April 2022. Notice the sun, Earth and Mercury. As viewed from Earth, Mercury is now located to one side of the sun, in our evening sky. Chart via Guy Ottewell.

A comparison of elongations

Not all of Mercury’s greatest elongations are created equal. Indeed, some are greater than others. Ultimately, the farthest from the sun that Mercury can ever appear on the sky’s dome is about 28 degrees. The least distance, comparatively, is around 18 degrees.

Also, elongations are better or worse depending on the time of year they occur.

In the autumn for either hemisphere, the ecliptic – or path of the sun, moon and planets – makes a narrow angle to the horizon in the evening. But it makes a steep slant, nearly perpendicular, in the morning. So, in autumn from either hemisphere, morning elongations of Mercury are best. Then, Mercury appears higher above the horizon and farther from the glow of the sun. Evening elongations in autumn are harder to see, however.

But, In the spring for either hemisphere, the situation reverses. The ecliptic and horizon meet at a sharper angle on spring evenings and a narrower angle on spring mornings. So, in springtime for either hemisphere, evening elongations of Mercury are best. Meanwhile, morning elongations in springtime are harder to see.

Chart with light blue and gray waves, black annotations, comparing Mercury elongatons in 2022.
View larger. | Mercury elongations compared. Gray areas represent evening apparitions (eastward elongation). Blue areas represent morning apparitions (westward elongation). The top figures are the maximum elongations, reached at the top dates shown beneath. Curves show the altitude of the planet above the horizon at sunrise or sunset, for latitude 40 degrees north (thick line) and 35 degrees south (thin). Maxima are reached at the parenthesized dates below (40 degrees north bold). Chart via Guy Ottewell’s 2022 Astronomical Calendar.

Photos from our community

Sunset with trees and label of Mercury on small dot.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Joel Weatherly in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, took this image on April 23, 2022. Joel wrote: “While the early morning planetary alignment garners attention, lonely little Mercury is making an appearance in our evening skies. Despite being elusive, it was easy to see without optical aid once sighted. Mercury will remain a pleasant addition to our evening skies as it reaches its greatest eastern elongation on April 29.” Thank you, Joel!
Lifeguard tower in the foreground, crescent moon and Mercury in a twilight sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Chix RC captured this image on January 3, 2022, from Hermosa Beach, California. See Mercury to the upper right of the crescent? Chix wrote: “A faint young moon at 1% illumination and Mercury.” Thank you, Chix!
Mercury and Mars close together in dim sunset sky over wooded hills.
Peter Lowenstein of Mutare, Zimbabwe caught Mercury and Mars in the evening twilight on August 18, 2021. Thank you, Peter!
Crescent moon, two labeled dots in blue and orange sky over a lighted suspension bridge.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Alexander Krivenyshev of the website WorldTimeZone.com captured this photo of the moon together with Mercury and Venus on May 13, 2021, from Newport, Rhode Island. Thank you, Alexander!

Submit your photos to EarthSky here.

Some resources to enjoy

Read about greatest elongations, superior and inferior conjunctions: Definitions for stargazers

See the moon phase for every day in 2022. EarthSky lunar calendars now available! Going fast!

Bottom line: You can currently spot Mercury during its best evening apparition of 2022. The planet reaches greatest elongation on April 29 at 8 UTC.

Posted 
April 28, 2022
 in 
Tonight

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