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The Mercury is rising this May

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The Mercury is rising in the Cleveland area, and in more ways than one. No, this article has absolutely nothing to do with the recent forecasts for warmer temperatures. Rather, this is about another Mercury, the one that orbits the Sun.

Of all the Classical Planets (those known to the Ancient Greeks and Romans), Mercuryis by far the hardest to spot because, as seen from Earth, it never gets very far away from the Sun.

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, because they are superior (outside) the Earth in positioning in the solar system, can be all night objects when they come to yearly opposition, the time when the planet is directly opposite the Sun in the sky. Venus, though inferior (inside Earth's orbit), can get about 46 degrees away from the Sun, or just over half way to directly overhead (zenith). Now, as for Mercury, things are different.

Mercury is very close to the Sun as seen from Earth because it is the closest planet to our nearest star. As a result, Mercury is often obscured from view by the Sun's glare. However, just like young moons, spring evenings (and fall mornings) are great times for observing Mercury because of the nearly vertical ecliptic plane. However, this July is proving an exception.

As of now, Mercury is making its longest-lasting evening appearance of the year. How good is it? So good that there is a real possibility that, Western horizon allowing, one can observe Mercury for about two weeks, which is a long time for the speedy planet.

So, take a moment or two, go out at twilight, and try to spot Mercury. If you are successful in spotting the speedy planet, you are accomplishing something that the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (who rediscovered the idea of a sun-centered solar system) supposedly never did.

Unfortunately, despite Mercury being so well-placed, astronomy always a weather-allowing pursuit, be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecastand, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Unfortunately, despite clear skies, haze, which is about impossible to forecast, can always be a problem that never appears until the Sun sets. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.

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