The first week of March will conclude with a celestial meetup of the smallest and largest planets in the solar system, but it will only be visible to those up well before daybreak and under a cloud-free sky.
Friday morning, Mercury and Jupiter will appear side by side in an astronomical event called a conjunction. This type of conjunction is not particularly rare and is the second time this year that Mercury and Jupiter are converging in the night sky.
To see the pair of planets, sky watchers will need to look to the southeast about an hour before sunrise with the two eventually fading away as the light from the sun brightens the sky leading up to daybreak.
Of the five planets that are visible to the unaided eye (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), Mercury is the most challenging to spot due to its small size and proximity to the sun. This makes Friday's conjunction an excellent opportunity to spot the elusive Mercury with Jupiter serving as a bright reference point.
Saturn will also be glowing nearby above the duo and off to the right.
|Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn as they will be seen from the Northern Hemisphere before sunrise on Friday. Image courtesy of AccuWeather|
This event will be visible around the entire globe, not just for those in the Northern Hemisphere. However, the placement of the planets will appear slightly different for onlookers south of the equator.
No telescope is needed to see Friday morning's conjunction, but those that put the effort into setting one up for this event will be able to get a better look at the two planets.
Mercury will almost appear to be closer to the gas giant than Jupiter's four largest moons: Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto. These moons can easily be seen with the help of the most basic telescopes or a pair of binoculars.
|Jupiter pictured from Gampaha District, Sri Lanka, in 2019. From left to right, the moons Callisto, Ganymede, Io and Europa can be seen orbiting the planet. Image courtesy of Rehman Abubakr|
If cloudy conditions obscure the sky on Friday morning, people can set their alarms for Saturday and Sunday morning to look for the planets as they will still appear to be close to each other, but not as close as they will be on Friday.
After this week's close encounter, it will be a little more than a year before Mercury and Jupiter cross paths again. The next conjunction between the planets is set for March 21, 2022, although next year's event will not be quite as impressive as the one taking place on Friday.