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Space Watch Mercury and Mars Appear in the Night Sky: Don't Miss Out!

Watch Mercury and Mars Appear in the Night Sky: Don't Miss Out!

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First Posted: Feb 04, 2013 10:50 AM EST
Mercury
Ancient Mercury possessed a massive, roiling ocean of magma, according to new research. (Photo : UCSB)

Want to see Mercury? You're in luck. The planet is due to make an appearance right before Valentine's Day, and you should be able to see it with your naked eye.

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The best time to view this planet will be about 30 minutes after sunset between Feb. 12 and 20. The planet will position itself at least 10 degrees above the horizon in the west-southwest, so make sure you have an unobstructed view of the horizon.

Mercury isn't the only planet that will put on a show, though. Mars will join Mercury this Friday just after sunset. The Red Planet will hang just beneath Mercury, though it may be difficult to see since it will appear dimmer than usual.  

Mercury is the innermost planet of the Solar System, and is only slightly larger than Earth's moon. It has very little atmosphere to stop impacts, and is absolutely covered with craters. While during the day it's super-heated by the sun, its nights have temperatures that can drop hundreds of degrees below freezing.

Since Mercury orbits the sun so closely, the planet is only visible from Earth during morning or evening twilight, always rising and setting with the sun. The Hubble telescope, in fact, won't be able to observe it because of its own proximity to the sun. Trying to focus on the planet would most likely damage its instruments.

If you really want a show, though, check out the skies on Feb. 11. In addition to Mercury and Mars, you should be able to see a very thin crescent moon floating right above the two planets. Be sure to catch this event while you can, though, because Mercury will only appear for a short time. The planet will slide back toward the horizon and lose itself in the sun's glare after the weekend of Feb. 16 and 17.

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