From the evening of February 1st, people in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to see Mercury with the naked eye. Until February 4th the bleak, sun-dried planet will be visible in the post-sunset sky. So with a passion in photography I grabbed my camera and tripod, and headed out to the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire, UK. I set up my camera about 30 minutes before sunset, and started taking a few shots of the setting sun while waiting for the appearance of Mercury.
As the sun dropped towards, then below, the horizon a thin sliver of silver moon began to rise. Knowing that Mercury should appear somewhere below and just off the side of the moon, I stayed where I was, on an exposed hilltop with strong gusts and biting wind chill. As the moon rose, clouds moved in obscuring much of the sky, including where Mercury would show. Needless to say, I never got to see the planet closest to the sun.
On the plus side, I did get to see a different astronomical phenomenon. Given the time of year, and position of the Earth and moon in relation to the sun, there is currently a very narrow crescent moon. Sunlight reflected off the surface of the earth, very faintly lights up the dark side of the moon (no not the Pink Floyd album!). This phenomenon is called Earthshine, and allows us to see the outline of the entirety of the Moon beyond the crescent in the sunlight.
So I stood in the biting wind to catch a glimpse of Mercury which was obscured by cloud, but I did at least manage to snap a few shots of the crescent moon and Earthshine, so it wasn’t a total bust!