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Skywatch: Mercury and Venus reach milestones this week

They'll be shining brightly as a result.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mercury will hit a milestone early in the week. At around 2 a.m. on Monday it’ll reach something known as greatest western elongation. Simply put, if you looked at the solar system from above the moon, Mercury and the sun would make a right angle. 

Because it's at greatest western elongation, Mercury will be visible in the morning sky, Venus reaches greatest elongation later this week which puts it in the evening sky. More on that in a second.

When a planet is at elongation, it’s bright in the sky and bright making it easier to find. Look for Mercury in the eastern sky before sunrise, you’ll need a clear view of the horizon to find it.

The moon can help you find a great open cluster around midnight Monday night into Tuesday morning. Messier 35 or M35 in the constellation of Gemini.

Look in the eastern sky to find it. A pair of binoculars is recommended because even though M35 is visible to the naked eye you need ideal conditions to find it that way.

The last quarter moon arrives Thursday at 4:05 p.m. Moonrise isn’t until after midnight Friday morning so you’ll need to be late (or early depending on your schedule) to catch the half moon.

As I mentioned earlier Venus reaches greatest eastern elongation on Friday evening. The planet will be easy to spot as a result. Jupiter and Saturn will be above and left of the planet. Look for the trio in the south to southwestern sky around sunset to find them. 

Happy hunting!

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