Starwatch: Mercury and Venus put on a dawn show | Science

Starwatch map

The new year starts in fine style with the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, putting on a fine show in the morning sky.

Venus, situated 114m miles from Earth, will be blazingly obvious in the sky. Its reflective cloud layer acts like a mirror to the sunlight and it will be easily visible in a clear sky.

Mercury will be more of a challenge. Although closer, at 86m miles, it is a smaller world than Venus and has no appreciable atmosphere. Its rugged surface is not as good as Venus’s cloud tops at reflecting light, so it appears much dimmer from Earth. This means its glow will be fighting with the gathering dawn light.

The chart shows the view looking south-east from London on 8 January at 7am GMT. On this day, Mercury and Venus will be joined by a beautifully slim waning crescent moon – just 12.7% of its visible surface will be illuminated.

To maximise your chances of seeing the tiny world of Mercury, find a viewing location with an excellent south-eastern horizon. It will be somewhat easier to see the grouping from the southern hemisphere as they will rise higher in the sky before sunrise.


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