Mer­cury – the Usain Bolt of plan­ets

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In mythol­ogy, Mer­cury is known as the mes­sen­ger of the gods, of­ten de­picted wear­ing winged san­dals. The epony­mous planet is just as fleet­footed and takes only 88 days to or­bit the sun. That’s be­cause it’s so close to the sun, of­ten dis­ap­pear­ing in the glow. This year, Mer­cury will be vis­i­ble three times in the evening and four times in the morn­ing. It will be fur­thest from the sun in July and eas­i­est to spot. Just af­ter sun­set, look for a bright “star” near the hori­zon, in the re­gion where the sun has set. This year there will even be a bea­con to help you: Reg­u­lus will be nearby, the bright­est star in the con­stel­la­tion of Leo (the “dot” of the up­side-down ques­tion mark that forms the head of the lion). From 24 – 26 July, look for Mer­cury at about 6.30 pm and you’ll be able to see how fast it moves against the starry back­drop of the night sky, and past Reg­u­lus. On 25 July, when Mer­cury and Reg­u­lus are clos­est to­gether, a thin sickle moon will join them to form a beau­ti­ful group­ing. On 30 July, Mer­cury will reach its fur­thest point from the sun as seen from earth. Af­ter­wards, it will “dive down” to­wards the hori­zon over a pe­riod of two weeks and dis­ap­pear into the sun’s glow.

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