Mercury

Art Trevena

A rare cosmic event will occur on the morning of May 9, 2016.  Mercury, the innermost, smallest, and speediest planet, will appear to cross the sun’s disk, as seen from Earth.

NASA/JPL (Public Domain)

The planet Mercury is the closest planet to our Sun.  Its average distance from the Sun is only 35 million miles. Mercury has the fastest orbital speed in the Solar System…88 days.  Perhaps this is why the planet is named after the speedy messenger to the Roman gods!

Mercury in Evening Twilight
 

Have you ever seen the planet Mercury? When conditions are near optimal, Mercury is easy to see. However, optimal conditions are rare, and many casual observers search for Mercury without success. This is because of the planet’s proximity to the sun.  The safe time to view Mercury is after sunset or before sunrise, depending upon the Mercury's orbit.

In our Western skies, three planets are visible with the naked eye or binoculars during February evenings. They are Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury.