In early March, the beautiful astronomical duo of Mercury and Jupiter will adorn the predawn sky. Moreover, around the date of conjunction, the elusive planet Mercury will reach its greatest western elongation from the Sun for the year. How to observe these brilliant planets and what to expect from these astronomical events? Read on to find out!
Conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter
On March 5, 2021, you’ll have a chance to witness a spectacular astronomical event: the conjunction of the largest and the smallest planets of the Solar System, Jupiter and Mercury. This day, at about 1:49 a.m. EST (06:49 GMT), the gas giant Jupiter will pass 0°19′ to the south of speedy little Mercury. Jupiter will be at a magnitude of -2.0, while Mercury will have a magnitude of 0.1. The planets will dance among the stars of the constellation Capricornus.
How to see Jupiter and Mercury? Well, to enjoy their beautiful astronomical duo, get up before dawn and look at the eastern or southeastern part of the sky. Jupiter is the most brilliant morning planet: it outshines Mercury by seven times. Both planets can be seen with the naked eye, but you can also use a pair of binoculars to get a better view. Aim your binoculars at Jupiter to see Mercury joining up with the gas giant in the same binocular field. You’ll also see Saturn shining nearby; even though it is fainter than Jupiter and Mercury, the ringed planet might be easier to spot as it is placed higher up in the sky and is farther away from the glare of the morning twilight.
The easiest way to locate Mercury and Jupiter in the sky above you is to use the stargazing guide Star Walk 2. Simply put “Mercury” or “Jupiter” in the search field, and the astronomical app will show their position in the sky’s dome. Activate the AR mode to enjoy the brilliant duo, the stars, planets, and constellations that surround them towering over your current location.
Mercury at greatest western elongation
We’ve already told you about Mercury’s eastern elongation that took place in January 2021. This month the Solar System’s innermost planet reaches its maximum western elongation from the Sun for the year.
On March 6, 2021, at 04:48 a.m. EST (09:48 GMT), Mercury will reach its greatest separation from the Sun, as seen from the Earth. When can you see Mercury these days? Actually, the greatest western elongation is called the morning one because the elusive planet is best observed during the morning hours. Mercury’s maximum elongation angle is between 18° and 28° east or west of the Sun. On March 6, Mercury will be 27.3° west of the Solar System’s blazing star — that’s the maximum angular separation between them for all of 2021!
For the observers from the Southern Hemisphere, this greatest elongation of Mercury is the best time to observe the planet in 2021. Get up before sunrise to see Mercury shining high above the horizon. At northern latitudes, Mercury will be placed lower down in the morning sky; it’ll be harder to spot as the morning twilight might outshine the planet. Those who live in the Far North region probably won’t see Mercury at all as it will rise almost concurrently with the Sun.
We wish you clear skies and happy observations!