With all of the celestial events coming up this summer, we can safely rebrand Big Planet Season for the next few months. All of this year’s super moons have passed, but the cosmic gifts that dot the calendar are a little more mysterious and vivid than the moon: some of the solar system’s largest and most distant planets will become visible to the naked eye.
Mercury is a planet that will carve out a prominent place in the sky early in the morning and at night in July. You will be able to follow the smallest planet in our solar system for most of the month as it drifts to the right of a waning crescent moon and becomes prominent for two days on the east-northeast horizon. It will be a fun exercise to follow the journey of the planet, but please do not tell your friends that Mercury is in retrograde– because it is not!
How to see Mercury in July
The planet will become visible on July 1 in the early morning sky, an hour before sunrise, but it is not until July 4 that Mercury will experience its greatest elongation (or greatest separation from the sun). This is an important event, in large part because Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, but its distance from the gas orb doesn’t really affect its visibility to spectators on Earth.
As NASA notes, the planet will eventually drift “nine degrees below the waning crescent moon “in the early morning of July 7. According to the space agency, it” will be after the moon in the east-northeast at 4:27 am ET, just 12 minutes before the start of morning twilight. The moon will then move so that Mercury appears “4 degrees to the right of the waning crescent m“Low over the horizon in the east-northeast” on July 8, making an appearance again at 4:27 a.m. ET.
On July 10 and 11, Mercury will be at its highest above the east-northeast horizon, possibly giving astronomers the best chance of glimpsing the planet Swift. Catching Mercury at the optimum time is a matter of opinion; BBC Sky at Night magazine argues that July 15, just an hour before sunrise, might be your best bet. However, there is a unanimous consensus on when the planet’s visibility will wane, as it is expected to exceed the horizon by July 18.
How to identify Mercury
The planet should appear faint, although still identifiable with the naked eye, although binoculars or a telescope are preferable for one more memorable glimpse. As Space.com notes, “There must be a clear and unobstructed horizon” when you try to see the planet. “Mercury generally appears as a bright ‘star’ with a yellowish or ocher tint.”
Keep an eye on the moon like an anchor and look above or to the right for the best chance of seeing the planet, depending on the day. And be sure to keep your morning calendar open, as there are more stargazing events on the horizon (literally).