Yesterday I was considering that I had reached my present age (don’t ask) without ever having seen Mercury (well, except in silhouette against the sun). It was past time that I did something about that, so I set my alarm for 6 am and hoped for clear skies. I was inspired by the image in my web cam from yesterday at 6.30 am, which apparently showed Mercury (though I am no longer so certain). Anyway, since the Observer’s Handbook 2006 says this is the best morning apparition of the year for northern observers, it’s a good time to look. Greatest elongation west is on the 25th, so there’s a limited time for this.
At 6 am when the alarm sounded I got up immediately and hobbled (feet still in as bad shape as yesterday) to the back room where the webcam is set up. No sign of Mercury – not a good sign since the webcam supposedly saw Mercury yesterday at 6.30 and I thought the sky was about as clear today as then. I went downstairs, grabbed a pair of binoculars, and stepped outside (cold, 4 below zero Celsius). I had considerable trouble seeing any stars at all, let alone Mercury – by this point the twilight was more ‘light’ than ‘twi’ – but eventually I spotted Arcturus. The fact I had trouble even finding Arcturus is an indication of how bright the sky had become. From Arcturus I dropped down to the horizon and started scanning to the south – and there, barely visible, was Mercury, tough to make out even in the binoculars, and not an easy naked eye object at all – city skies are just too polluted for easy observing near the horizon.
I don’t see Mercury in today’s webcam image, though it should be in almost the same spot, and I suspect that yesterday’s capture was not of Mercury but of one of the planes which pollute the morning sky. The object I found (and tracked for a while to be certain it was astronomical) was further south than the webcam object would have been, even accounting for the difference between my ground-level observing spot and the upper-level placement of the webcam.
While my inspiration may not have been quite what I thought, I have finally added Mercury to my life list of objects observed.