Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and from our vantage point on Earth, appears to be no more than a blip of light. Unfortunately, this means the planet can be hard to spot if you do not know where to look. Astronomers hoping to track the planet down are advised to keep their eyes peeled right after sunset or just before sunrise.
And the good news is one such opportunity will present itself for stargazers in Australia this week.
The planet is typically best seen around this time of year from the Southern Hemisphere.
According to Romy Pearse of Astronomy Australia, Mercury will appear fairly high in the western twilight skies.
She said: “Because of Mercury’s high eccentric orbit and the fact that it’s so close to the Sun, we don’t often get these early evening views of Mercury.
“So it’s worth going out tonight and having a look while you have the chance.”
How to see the planet Mercury over Australia?
The small planet is typically best seen in September and October in the evening hours, as well as in the mornings of March and April.
On Tuesday night, for instance, the planet appeared over the western horizon around the time of sunset.
Sighting times will, of course, differ across the different parts of the country.
In Sydney, the planet was best seen at about 6.11pm AEST while in Melbourne the planet was best seen at about 6.39pm AEST.
It’s worth going out tonight and having a look while you have the chance
Romy Pearse, Astronomy Australia
On Wednesday, Sydney-based stargazers should keep their eyes peeled for Mercury until about 7.31pm AEST.
When viewed from Brisbane, the planet will be visible until about 7.19pm AEST.
All the way over in Perth, the planet will be visible until 7.51pm AWST.
And in Adelaide, look near the setting Sun until about 7.51pm ACST.
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You can use an online tool like TimeandDate.com to find out which planets are visible from your location.
Ms Pearse said: “To find Mercury, look out for a bright star near the horizon, right above where the Sun has just disappeared.
“There will be another bright star in the sky in the North West, which is Arcturus.
“People may think this is Mercury, but to avoid that confusion, make sure you are looking at the bright star closest to the point where the Sun just went down, and that will be Mercury.”
Stargazing tips for seeing Mercury:
As with all stargazing, light pollution and clouds will be your worst enemies.
Check your local weather forecast to make sure the skies will be clear tomorrow.
Keep in mind the planet will be visible after sunset so there will be lingering glow in the skies.
Once the planet dips below the horizon, it will remain so until after sunrise the following morning.
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