Where, When, and How to See Mercury

The innermost planet is well known for its speedy motion around the Sun, but you can spot it early in November hovering over the eastern horizon before sunrise.

In Roman mythology, Mercury is the fleet-footed messenger of the gods. His planetary namesake is equally famous for quick movement. The innermost planet zips around the Sun in just 88 days. This orbital pep, combined with the planet's closeness to the Sun, gives Mercury a reputation of being difficult to spot in the sky.

Spotting Mercury in November 2014

Fast-moving Mercury is easy to spot if you know where and when to look. This week, head out before sunrise to spot it low in the east.
Sky & Telescope diagrams

But, really, it's not hard to see Mercury — and this coming week you'll have a chance to prove it to yourself.

Mercury is in the midst of its best morning appearance of the year. It's been rapidly climbing in the predawn twilight, and on November 1st its elongation (angular separation) from the Sun maxes at 18.7°.

That's not particularly favorable; the planet's greatest elongation can reach 28° at times. However, thanks to a favorable tilt of the ecliptic during northern autumn, these crisp mornings the planet is perched almost directly above the Sun.

How To See Mercury in November

Mercury over Duluth, Minnesota

Although it was no match for the bright lights on grain elevators in Duluth, Minnesota, the planet Mercury (near top) still shone brightly after sunset on January 27, 2014.
Bob King

As the month begins, Mercury rises about 90 minutes before the Sun, and it climbs to about 10° above the horizon as twilight starts to brighten. (Your clenched fist, held at arm's length, covers roughly 10° of sky.) So find a spot with a clear, unobstructed view toward east, and then head out about an hour before dawn. Skygazers in the U.S. will be adjusting clocks on November 2nd, as we return to standard time; after that aim to be outside no later than about 5:30 a.m.

Mercury shines at magnitude –0.6 on November 1st, so it will be fairly easy to spot. Also look for the star Spica, fainter at 1st magnitude, a few degrees to the planet's lower right. As the days pass, Spica will climb higher and Mercury will slip — by November 8th their roles have reversed, with Spica higher up.

The planet brightens throughout November, as it rounds the Sun and becomes more fully illuminated from Earth's perspective. But dawn's twilight outpaces and soon overwhelms that modest gain. So plan to spot Mercury while you can — by eye during the next two weeks and using binoculars during the week afterward.

Add a comment below (especially if your a Mercury "first-timer") to let me know about your efforts to spot this elusive celestial target.


Want to hold the innermost planet in your hands? Check out Sky & Telescope's new, highly detailed Mercury globe.

5 thoughts on “Where, When, and How to See Mercury

  1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    I’ve seen Mercury twice in the past few days (27 and 29 October), when we had clear weather in San Francisco and I got up early enough for a brisk half-hour walk up nearby Bernal Hill to gain a clear view to the east-southeast over the bay toward the east bay hills. I was surprised how high and bright Mercury was 45 minutes before sunrise. Arcturus was about 30 degrees north of Mercury, about equally high above the horizon and equally bright. As the sky brightened, Mercury remained easier to see longer than Arcturus, even though Mercury was closer to the Sun and thus appearing through brighter dawn light.

    I enjoyed pointing out Mercury (and Jupiter) to people who were out walking their dogs, who had never knowingly seen Mercury before.

  2. Joe StieberJoe Stieber

    I saw Mercury for the first time this elongation on October 25th (and the Zodiacal Light preceding twilight).This time, It was an easy naked-eye object once it cleared the 2-degree tree tops from my location in the relatively dark New Jersey Pinelands. That marks the twenty-fifth elongation in a row I’ve seen Mercury (sometimes only with optical aid), which includes all of the elongations in the years 2011 through 2014. The point is that it’s not too difficult to see Mercury with a modest amount of planning and determination.

    1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

      Joe, you have inspired me to try to see Mercury at least once during each apparition, even though I know I will never catch up to your record. I missed Mercury’s most recent evening apparition because of his low altitude, other commitments, and perfectly badly timed clouds.

  3. JamesGBaker

    I’m a very long time Mercury hunter. With a house with nice clear horizons East and West, it makes for a cheap hobby. I started in 1998 observing Mercury every time it switches from morning skies to evening skies and vice-versa.. Initially, I was not sure I was seeing it so I made 3 observations before I considered my string of consecutive observations intact. Sometimes need binoculars to locate it, but switch to visual only for the confirmation. Now I know the planet so well, one observation is enough for me to be sure. Kept my unbroken string alive today with probably the easiest sighting ever. Didn’t even have to go outside, visible through the big picture window. Been a few close calls that almost interrupted my string, but kept it alive even if it meant driving 50 miles east to get away from morning fog. Have lost count now of the actual number, but I know I started in April of 1998. Fear declining eyesight may make binoculars necessary for keeping the string alive someday.

  4. Jorge LuisJorge Luis

    It is a pleasure to observe the planet Mercury moving very fast in the vicinity of the sun, I had the satisfaction to observe with the naked eye (binocular and telescope medium) equipment. I have a good eastern horizon and this will be a great opportunity to follow during the month, very grateful for the very detailed and schematic information submitted by you Mr. Kelly Beatty. fraternal greetings from san diego, Venezuela.

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