Monday, November 25, 2013

Mercury and Saturn Very Close Conjunction - 26 Nov 2013

Mercury and Saturn will get very close to each other as seen from Earth in the early morning of 26 Nov 2013.

The bad news first - it will be extremely challenging to see them from Singapore.

Even if you do manage to see them through a telescope, chances are you will not see a very clear sharp view of Saturn and Mercury. This is because they will appear very low in the horizon where the atmosphere is thickest (thus creating more distortion to light) and they appear very briefly before the brightness of twilight overwhelms them. The higher probability of clouds near the horizon and the ugly sky glow in light-polluted Singapore is not helping too.

Now, the slightly better news - it is not impossible to see them through a binocular or telescope *IF* the sky is just clear enough and you know exactly where to look for them in the sky.

Mercury and Saturn so close their text label overlap each other!

Only 5 degrees above horizon just before the twilight sky turns bright

For those who are up for a challenge, here's how to find them:

- Find a location with an unobstructed view of the East.
- Use an accurate compass to locate 105 degrees East-Southeast (ESE).
- Locate the portion of the sky roughly 5 degrees above the horizon facing 105 degrees ESE. This is about half the height of your fist on an extended arm.
- Point your binocular/telescope at that spot in the sky and observe patiently from 5:45am till about 6:05am tomorrow early morning before sunrise (Tuesday 26 Nov 2013).
- If you have a computerised telescope system, then just let it search and track Saturn or Mercury during this period.

If you are successful, you should see 2 very dim "stars" very close to each other through a binocular. And maybe even the rings and moons of Saturn very dimly through a telescope. The idea is to see 2 planets in the same field-of-view magnified through an optical instrument which is a relatively rare view.

Typical view through a wide-field telescope in low/medium magnification.

The above image shows how close they are - less than half an arc degree apart. The red circle indicates the apparent size of the Moon (which is half an arc degree). This means just like the Moon, you can cover both planets in the sky with the width of your pinky fingertip (about one arc degree) on an extended arm!

The fact they are so close also implies one may use more magnification on a long focal length telescope and still fit both of them in the same view and see slightly more details of Saturn (e.g. the rings and moons of Saturn).

Once again, as mentioned earlier, this is a very challenging sight in Singapore. So do manage your expectation. If you manage to see them, congrats! If you don't and the sky at higher altitude is clear enough, enjoy observing Jupiter, Orion Nebula and the stars! Else, you can enjoy an early breakfast and going to work/school comfortably during non-peak hours! :)

Clear skies and good luck hunting!

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