Today Mercury is passing through maximum elongation, the furthest it will rise above the rising Sun in the dawn sky. After today the planet will slide back into the Sun’s glare headed for superior conjunction on January 10th.
This is a modest apparition, with the planet only 20° from the Sun.
Observant sky watchers will have noticed that the two brightest planets in our skies have been drawing close together. Jupiter and Venus are currently about 2° apart. Sunday evening will see them at their closest for viewers in the islands at just under 1.5° apart. Monday will see the pair very slightly further apart at just over 1.5° separation.
After Monday the two will gradually separate further with Jupiter disappearing into the sunset in mid-December while Venus continues to climb further from the Sun until maximum elongation on March 24, 2020.
On Wednesday the 27th a thin crescent Moon will join these bright planets, just 5° below Jupiter. On Thursday the 28th the Moon will be 4° above Venus. The three should make for quite a spectacular sight in the glow of sunset.
A degree and a half separation will allow both to fit in the field of view of very low power telescopes and binoculars, a bit much to fit both in the field of view of most telescopes.
It was a clear predawn sky that greeted Waimea this morning, perfect to watch the transit of Mercury across the Sun.
An alarm set for o-dark-thirty and a drive to Waimea with the first glow of dawn behind the mauna. I did not have to pack a ‘scope as I would be using an observatory outreach telescope, just make sure I have camera gear ready.
Realistically I was expecting only a few folks in addition to the club members I knew were coming. A light crowd maybe? Thus I was rather surprised to find the parking lot filling quickly and our big conference room buzzing at 6am.
It was quite the crowd considering the Sun had not yet appeared over the shoulder of the mauna!
Today Mercury is passing through inferior conjunction, passing between the Sun and the Earth. This fast moving planet will reappear above the dawn in about a week, rising towards maximum elongation on November 28th.
The Leonids are one of the better known annual meteor showers. Some years see high Leonid activity, with amazing numbers of meteors. This shower has occasionally created true meteor storms. Unfortunately 2019 is not predicted to be one of those years, with very modest numbers expected.
Due to the gravitational influence of Jupiter, the Leonids are not expected to produce any exceptional showers for some decades. We are unlikely to see any repeats of the early 21st century storms anytime soon.
The shower will peak on November 17, with an expected ZHR of around 15 meteors per hour. The Leonids exhibit a broad peak allowing viewing for days before and after maximum. Moonlight is a bit of an issue with a waning gibbous Moon 5 days after full on the 17th.