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Mercury to show its true colours

posted on 23/04/2008: 1596 views



Star-gazers look up and watch a blissful sight in the eastern horizon ¬ the most elusive Planet Mercury will entertain your eyes and mind. The planet is the most difficult of the five brightest planets to see, because it's the planet closest to the sun, it never strays too far from the sun's vicinity in the sky.

Chairman of Adco Astronomy Club and member of Abu Dhabi Heritage Club and amateur astronomer in the UAE, Mohammed Talib Al Salami said the night sky of Wednesday will be brightened by the shining Mercury and can be watched with naked sky from the UAE. "Mercury will be visible within 30 minutes after sunset if the sky is quite clear," he said.

Mercury will be shining at magnitude +1.6, slightly brighter than Sirius (the brightest of all stars). In fact, at that particular hour of the day, Mercury will be the brightest object in the sky! "If the sky is free of any horizon haze and there are no tall obstructions to your view (like trees or buildings) you should have no trouble in seeing it as a very bright "star" shining with just a trace of a yellowish-orange tinge. By April 30, Mercury will be setting as late as 85 minutes after the sun," Salami said.

As the planet of often not seen, there's even a rumour that Copernicus never saw it, yet it's not really hard to see. One must know when and where to look and find a clear horizon. For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, a great "window of opportunity" for viewing Mercury in the evening sky is about to open up.

Mercury is called an "inferior planet" because its orbit is nearer to the Sun than the Earth's. Therefore, it always appears from our vantage point to be in the same general direction as the sun. In the pre-Christian era, this planet actually had two names, as it was not realised it could alternately appear on one side of the sun and then the other.

It was called Mercury when in the evening sky, but was known as Apollo when it appeared in the morning. It is said that Pythagoras, about the fifth century B.C., pointed out that they were one and the same.

After the celestial show, it will gradually move away from the vicinity of the sun. On the evening of May 6, be sure to look for a delicately thin sliver of a 1.5-day old crescent moon sitting just a couple of degrees above and slightly to Mercury's right.

In old Roman legends, Mercury was the swift-footed messenger of the Gods. The planet is well named for it is the closest planet to the sun (at an average distance of 36 million miles) and the swiftest of the sun's family, averaging about 30 miles per second; making its yearly journey in only 88 Earth days.

The time Mercury takes to rotate once on its axis is 59 days. But it has a "crazy orbit" which takes around 176 days at the farthest end. – The Gulf Today

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