Aptly as Valentine’s Day approaches, February is the month to see pink-tinged Mercury hovering above the horizon at sunset.
Avid sky watchers may have already caught it sneaking a tryst with fiery Mars on February 9, red and pink preludes to the day of love.
On February 11 it’s the moon’s turn. The slender crescent moon will be just bright enough to point the way to Mercury just below it, while not blazing enough to obscure it. Mars is still visible too, but a tad below Mercury, and fainter.
Both moon and Mercury will be pink-hued, reflecting the recently departed sun.
Mercury, as most of us know, is the solar system’s smallest planet. Measuring a mere 3,031 miles in diameter and rotating in an elliptical orbit that ranges from 28.6 million to 43.5 million miles from the sun, it takes the brunt of solar flares. At times it even sprouts a comet-like “tail,” according to NASA. It orbits the sun every 88 days, and comes within 48 million miles of Earth.
“Its days are twice as long as its years. It has a tail like a comet. It is hot enough to melt lead, yet capped by deposits of ice. And to top it all off ... it appears to be pink,” NASA said in a release about the appearance of this elusive planet.
Even after the moon has moved on, tiny Mercury—which earned its designation as the solar system’s smallest once Pluto had been stripped of its status—will grace the skies for the first half of the month in a rare sight, reports Space.com. In addition, Mars will join it again on February 16.
“The trick for spotting Mercury is first to find an observing location with a low unobstructed western horizon, wait for half an hour after sunset for the sky to darken, and then sweep to the left of the sunset with binoculars,” Space.com said. “Once you've initially located the planet with binoculars, you can usually see Mercury with the unaided eye. Don't wait too late, or Mercury will have set. In a telescope, Mercury appears as a tiny ‘half moon.’ ”
Below, NASA gives a bit more insight into the planet that dares to kiss the sun.