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For most of November 2011, Southern Hemisphere observers are in for a treat as inner planets Mercury and Venus dance together in the early evening sky. For those of you living in the Northern Hemisphere the apparition is poor, but you won't completely miss out; a day either side of November 9th there is a chance to catch the two planets, as they lie very low in the sky just after sunset.

Mercury the closest planet to the Sun reaches greatest east elongation (23 degrees) on the 14th November. This apparition is particularly favourable for Southern Hemisphere observers and for a week or two either side of the apparition date, Mercury is well placed for observation in the evening sky.

Visible at this time in the same area of the sky is brilliant Venus and first magnitude red supergiant star Antares (α Scorpii). Venus at magnitude -3.8 is by far the brightest of the three, with Mercury at magnitude -0.2 and Antares the faintest at magnitude 1.1. The graphic below shows the relative positions of the three on various dates in November as seen from Sydney, Australia.

Mercury and Venus - November 2011 Southern Hemisphere view

Mercury and Venus - November 2011 Southern Hemisphere view - pdf format

Northern Hemisphere view

For Northern Hemisphere observers you will need a location with a perfect view of the southwest horizon. On the 9th November or a day either side look towards the horizon about 20 minutes after sunset. Venus will hover only about four degrees above the terminator. Despite been very low down, you may be able to spot Venus with the naked eye due to its brilliance. Below Venus and only about two degrees above the horizon is Mercury and almost touching the horizon is Antares. Binoculars will almost certainly be required to see all three.

Mercury and Venus - 9th November 2011 Northern Hemisphere view

Mercury and Venus - 9th November 2011 Northern Hemisphere view - pdf format


As always please use EXTREME CARE when using binoculars during daytime or twilight. Please make sure the Sun is below the horizon and don't look with binoculars at the region of sky where the Sun has just set. The golden rule is NEVER look at or near the SUN with any type of optical instrument, as it will cause irreversible EYE DAMAGE.