Santa Claus won’t be the only visitor in our night sky on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve (December 24), Mercury will shine brightly in the sky above Earth, peaking above the horizon during sunset on Christmas Day before fading from the sky as 2022 progresses into 2023.
During the two Christmas days, the planet closest to the sun will reach the highest point in the sky during its current winter evening apparition, 12 degrees above the horizon (more than one fist’s width at arm’s length), while shining brightly. from -0.6, according to in the sky (Opens in a new tab).
Related: Night sky, December 2022: What you can see tonight [maps]
An apparition is a period of time during which an object in the solar system is visible from Earth. The appearance of Mercury in the morning or evening sky can occur with this depending on whether the planet is to the east or west of the sun.
When Mercury is in the east, it rises and sets after the sun and can be seen in the early evening. On the other hand, when it is in the west, it rises and sets before sunrise and can be seen shortly before sunrise. Mercury’s current evening appearance to the east of the Sun lasts from December 4 through January 3.
Despite its increased brightness, Mercury will not be the “Star of Bethlehem” in the evening sky. The smallest planet in the solar system will still be a challenge because this appearance is not among the most prominent.
Plus, acting sooner rather than later is your best bet for planet vision. This is because Mercury will fade in brightness near the end of apparition from December to January as it passes between the Sun and heads into an arrangement called an inferior conjunction.
During inferior conjunctions, the planets turn away from Earth on their illuminated sides. This results in them appearing as thin, barely lit crescents.
Mercury is a planet that can only be seen above Earth during twilight, which means it’s hard to spot during this thin crescent phase. As a result, it will be easier to identify the closest planet to the Sun in the run-up to Christmas Day than in the days after.
Mercury is usually a hard planet to see because it is the Sun’s closest planetary neighbor, often obscured by the glare of light from the star. Therefore, the best time to try to see Mercury from Earth is during the periods when it is farthest from the Sun, the so-called moments of “greatest elongation”.
These periods occur approximately every three to four months and last for a few weeks at a time. Mercury last reached its maximum elongation, and thus its farthest distance from the Sun, during this current apparition on December 21st.
Whether you’re new to skywatching or have been using it for years, be sure not to miss our guides for the best binoculars and the best telescopes for watching Mercury or just about anything else in the sky. To take the best skywatching photos, we have recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor’s note: If you took a great photo of Mercury you’d love to share with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, name, and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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