One of the things that occoured to me when Pluto got re-classified was that it is now possible to see all the planets in our solar system with nothing more expensive than a 19 Euro pair of binoculars from Lidel. So, this year my challenge to myself is to do just that, observe all the planets with nothing more than my 10×50 binoculars. Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be very easy, the others will be more tricy. Mercury, because it spends so much time so close to the Sun that you are dependent on a clear western horision some time you can actually get out to see it within a few short windows each year, and Uranus and Neptune because they’ll require the binoculars to see. If you’re a beginner this is a very good challenge to help you get to know the sky and to become adept with your binoculars and/or telescope. I’d strongly advice you give this a go.
I had a good run of things this evening. Mercury is making one of it’s rare trips into our evenings skies and is visible low to the west just after sunset for about a week either side of the 7th of February. Venus is also in the same area of the sky so I knocked two off my list at about 6pm. Initially Mercury was only visible in binoculars just outside of the same field of view as Venus at about 5 o’clock (in the field of view not time). As the sun set lower behind the horison Mercury also got lower and lower but there was a windows of about 20 minutes where it was easily visible to the un-aided eye and still far enough above the horizon not to get lost in the crud we pretty much always have low in the sky. Then, later in the evening I also knocked Saturn off my list which is currently putting on a great show in the evening sky in Leo. That’s three down in one day, just four to go and almost 11 months to get them!
If you’re thinking of taking this challenge yourself this is an ideal time to get your Mercury observation. There are not many more windows for it in evening skies so if you’re like me and fond of your morning lie-ins you really hould make the most of this apparation because you’ll only get one other good chance this year in mid-May.