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January 2004: Mercury in the Morning

The elusive planet Mercury, which so often hides in the glare of the Sun, adorns the the dawn sky this January. The best time to look for this reclusive planet is around mid month, when it stands highest and shines most brightly. But anytime from January 5 till January 20 presents a reasonably good opportunity, with Mercury rising some one and one-half hours before the Sun.

An unobstructed view to your southeast is imperative, if you wish to see Mercury's brief appearance on the early morning stage. With your window of opportunity lasting for roughly half an hour, start looking for Mercury about an hour or so before sunrise. It's possible to see Mercury lurking close to the horizon with the eyes alone, but binoculars help out immeasurably to highlight its waning luster in the ever-brightening twilight. Keep in mind that the apparition disappears as quickly as an early morning dream.

In January, Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, hugs the western edge of its orbit as seen from Earth -- causing it to rise a maximum time before sunrise. Luckily, January also offers the latest sunrises and morning twilights of the year, so it's an easy time to get up by the crack of dawn. Watch, as this is your best chance of the year to catch Mercury in the morning sky until late December.

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copyright 2004 by Bruce McClure

Another January Adventure: Venus & Uranus