Mercury, the innermost planet, is now heading towards greatest eastern elongation (GEE), which it reaches on April 1, 2017. From mid-March, observers at northern-based locations should be able to spot the elusive planet, low down above the western horizon just after sunset. Each subsequent evening it improves in visibility until GEE is reached. After that, Mercury sinks gradually back towards the horizon until about 10 days later when it becomes lost to the bright twilight sky. This also happens to be the best evening apparition of the year from northern locations.

From southern latitudes, Mercury is unsuitably placed for observation this time.

Mercury as seen by the MESSENGER space probe (credit:- freestarcharts)

To spot Mercury, a clear unobstructed view of the western horizon is essential. At the time of GEE the planet will shine at mag. -0.2 and be positioned 19 degrees from the Sun. From mid-latitude northern locations, it appears 10 degrees above the western horizon, 45 minutes after sunset. Observers should note that the planet's brightness decreases during the visibility period. For example on March 17th, it will shine at mag. -1.4, but be down to mag. +0.8 by April 6th.

The diagram below shows the altitude of Mercury 45 minutes after sunset as seen from latitude of 51.5N (e.g. London, England). A similar view exists at other northern temperate latitudes.

Mercury 45 minutes after sunset from mid-latitude northern locations (credit:- freestarcharts)

Sky Highlights - May 2017

Mercury reaches greatest elongation west on May 17, 2017

Meteor Shower
Eta Aquariids meteor shower peaks on May 5th and 6th, 2017

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for May 2017

Northern Hemisphere
West:- Mars (mag. +1.6)
South:- Jupiter (mag. -2.4)
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.2)
South:- Saturn
East:- Venus (mag. -4.7)

Southern Hemisphere
West:- Mars
North:- Jupiter
Northwest:- Jupiter
North:- Saturn
Northwest:- Saturn
East:- Venus, Mercury (mag. +2.5 to -0.3), Neptune (mag. +7.9)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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