I cannot recall the last time the weather was so good at sunset during April. Our usual rain clouds that prevail mostly during the start of spring weather held back, till the 2nd half of the month. This weather happened at the right time, the planet Mercury was putting on an appearance in the west joining Venus in the same part of the sky. It was good time to show Mercury during the start of the spring public viewing nights at Thomas G. Cupillari Observatory. With Venus serving as a guide, Mercury is easily swept up in the 8 x 50 finder scope on the Clark refractor.
Using the local terrain, I aim the refractor to the approximate point in the western sky where Venus makes its appearance. One or two sweeps of the scope and Venus is found in the 8 x 50 finder. Offsetting Venus in the finder and Mercury is seen. Most of the time I can locate Venus between 7:30 and 7:45 PM EDT, when the Sun is on the western horizon. On April 14, 2010 I swept it up at 7:13 PM EDT, using my hand to shade the Sun from my eyes. It was a good telescope view, very steady gibbous disk, better than any of the precious 8 days that I was able to view it in the scope. It took more time to find Mercury. Rarely had I seen Mercury show a good appearance in the low sky, but tonight the crescent phase was holding steady, if only for a little while. The small nine arc second disk was 20% illuminated. Never have I seen it so well, so low in the sky.
My camera got a work out in April. Sitting on a tripod I would capture from 75 to 90 photographs a night of Venus and Mercury as they moved closer to the horizon. A record 9 out of 16 days that I was able to photograph both planets together. Usually I would only manage 3 days before weather hampered photographing Mercury.
The long string of nice skies and warmer temp is now past it’s time. Now it is back to more normal conditions for this time of year.