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You'll Get a Rare Chance to See Mercury as High as It Gets in the Sky Tonight

Get out there and see the fiery planet.

Mercury's transit across the sun. | DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images
Mercury's transit across the sun. | DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images

When we talk about casual stargazing that involves planets -- especially when viewed from a city -- we're often talking about some of the brightest objects in the night sky like the moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. The closest planet to the sun gets a little less love. 

That's because Mercury can be a little tough to spot. It doesn't spend as long in the sky at night due to its positioning relative to the sun from our vantage point. It also doesn't rise too far above the horizon. However, the planet is about to reach its "greatest eastern elongation," making the evening of June 4 a spectacular opportunity to see the solar system's smallest planet dangling in the night sky. 

Mercury will reach its greatest eastern elongation at 9am EST on June 4. However, the planet won't be visible until after sunset. It's only visible for a brief period of time that lasts about two hours after the sun goes down, per Astronomy Magazine. Due to its position in the solar system relative to Earth, Mercury will only rise about 7° above the horizon, which is relatively low.

To get a good view, you'll want a clear view along the horizon to the west, which is where you'll find it. 

As noted by Astronomy, the planet will wane and set earlier every night, fading in brightness even though, if you were looking through a telescope, you'd see the planet's disc size appear to be growing each night. Unfortunately, you're not going to be able to augment the viewing experience with Venus. Like a college friend who got their act together, it won't be out in the evening anymore because it'll be spending a little more time with the morning. 

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.