Venus and Mercury Mercury and Venus may be viewed with a standard home telescope, and their phases can be observed (planets, just like our moon, go through phases where they show as a crescent shape). Through a deep blue filter, you may even discern glimpses of Venus's cloud cover.
Venus is the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon and stars. It can sometimes be seen even without a telescope because it passes across the face of the moon every 48 hours or so. From Earth, Venus appears to be an orange-colored ball surrounded by clouds because its atmosphere is thick with carbon dioxide. But from afar, it looks more like a bright star because it is about 463 miles (750 km) away from Earth!
Mercury is only visible during a total solar eclipse when it completely blocks out the sun's light. The next time this will happen is on Aprilia.
See all the planets in the night sky with these activities and games for kids.
Get outside at night with your family and watch some of the many amazing things that fly through the sky. Do a spot check on each other to see who can identify the most stars and constellations. This game will help you learn about how far away different objects are from one another. Make sure to include mountains, oceans, and other large objects when guessing distances between them!
For much of the year, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible. Neptune and Uranus are not visible, and the eighth planet in our solar system is, of course, Earth. During this time, Mars, Mercury, and Venus can be seen at dawn or dusk. The planets Jupiter and Saturn may be seen in the early morning sky. The moon is always visible, but it doesn't show us anything new.
During certain times of the year, certain places on Earth offer a view of the night sky that contains all the planets except for Earth. These places are known as planetary observatories. A new map will be published soon by NASA that shows where to find these places in order of distance from Earth.
The best place to see the planets with the naked eye is during a total lunar eclipse. When a full moon rises over a dark area of land or water, it will look reddish because all direct sunlight is blocked from directly reaching the moon. Instead, only light from the sun as refracted through Earth's atmosphere reaches it. This has two important results: first, it makes the moon look red; second, it makes the planets look like bright stars against the background of the full moon.
Total lunar eclipses have been observed since prehistoric times. They occur when the path that the Moon takes as it orbits Earth passes between the Earth and the Sun, so that all direct sunlight is blocked from directly reaching it.
Nightly changes in Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn may be seen via a medium-sized telescope. You won't even need a black sky to achieve it: Even beneath city lights, the planets are simple to observe as they develop. Mercury's phases can be seen with a telescope, although details are limited. Pluto was recently reclassified by the International Astronomical Union as a "dwarf planet". It is now called a "plutoid" because it has no moon.
The stars of the Milky Way galaxy are visible with a small telescope. Beyond the galaxy, other galaxies are visible with larger telescopes. In fact, there are so many galaxies that we estimate that there are at least 100 billion others out there! The universe is vast and empty - and ever changing - so get out into space with a telescope tonight!
For information on observing conditions in your area, visit the Star-Observing Charts page. The site also offers tips on how to observe objects with telescopes.
Mercury is difficult to view with the human eye, but it may be seen using a telescope even during the day if you know where to look. When Mercury comes close to the Earth, a tiny disk may be seen, as well as phases (similar to the Moon's).
The best time to observe Mercury is when it is near the horizon in an area away from bright stars or other objects that might mask its faint glow. It should also be noted that because it is so small and dim, you will need a telescope of at least 10 inches (25 cm) for viewing purposes.
In addition to the small but distinctive disk that can be seen with the unaided eye, parts of Mercury can be resolved into craters. Using information from several good images taken over an extended period of time, scientists are able to determine which regions of Mercury have been explored by mapping their locations on the planet. They use this knowledge to predict where resources may be found on the planet.
Another interesting thing about Mercury is that it goes through major changes in temperature. From -400 degrees F (about 230 degrees C) at its south pole to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C) at its equator, it experiences both cold and hot seasons. The reason for these differences in temperature is that Mercury has almost no atmosphere to protect it from solar radiation. As a result, most of the heat from the sun is absorbed directly into its surface.
Venus is a lovely planet to study since you can see the crescent phases shifting as it round the Sun. Because there are no surface features to examine, you can use magnification of 200x or more. Mercury is very beautiful to look at, especially when the crescent phases and surface features are visible. You may use a magnification of 200-250x. The Moon is always interesting to watch because of its changes through its phases.
Venus and Mercury are the only two planets that can be seen with the unaided eye. The Moon is not a planet but rather a satellite of Jupiter.
Venus and Mercury have clouds mostly made of sulfuric acid. These clouds often block the sunlight and cause darkness when they move across the face of the planet.
The Moon has four major regions that we can identify simply by looking at it: the Crater Highlands, the Ocean Floor, the Ridges, and the Troughs. The Ocean Floor looks dark in color while the highlands are bright. There are many small valleys on the Moon that become filled with water during lunar eclipses. These lakes will freeze over during winter.
Lunar eclipses are visible from everywhere on Earth that has an unobstructed view of the night sky. They can be observed without any special equipment by anyone with access to a clear window.
During a total lunar eclipse all direct sunlight is blocked out by the Earth's shadow.