Venus and Mercury Sparkle Over Rome in New Photo
Venus (top left) and Mercury shine over Rome, Italy in this photo taken on March 31, 2010 by Italian astronomer Giancula Masi.
Credit: Giancula Masi.

An Italian astronomer has caught the rare sight of Venus and Mercury together in the night sky in a snapshot of both planets shining down on Rome.

Astronomer Giancula Masi snapped the stunning photo of Venus and Mercury on Wednesday night while looking west after sunset in Rome, Italy. The result: a serene scene of planets and architecture.

?You can enjoy both the planets and the skyline, with the magnificent St. Peter?s [Basilica] dome on the right,? Masi told of the skywatching trip to Campidoglio (?capitol?) in the heart of Rome. [Mysteries of Mercury.]

Venus and Mercury are locked in a celestial dance of sorts over the next few weeks, treating skywatchers to a chance to spot the usually tricky planetary target Mercury by using bright Venus as a guide. This viewing map shows where to look to see the two planets.

Between March 28 and April 12, Mercury will be within 5 degrees of Venus (the length of your clenched fist held at arm's length is about 10 degrees). 

So Venus is a convenient guidepost to locate the normally hard-to-find planet [more Venus photos]. skywatching columnist Joe Rao has this advice for avid hunters of Venus and Mercury:

?Around 30 to 45 minutes after sunrise look low toward the west-northwest horizon,? he wrote last week. ?You will immediately spot brilliant Venus. Hovering below and to its right you will see a bright yellowish ?star.? You?re looking at our solar system?s so-called ?elusive? planet.? Read more about Mercury.

Masi used a digital reflex camera and a wide-field lens to catch the planetary dance of Venus and Mercury.

?It was a memorable experience for me to go close to ?Campidoglio? and looking up for those cosmic jewels, finding them above that stunning panorama!? Masi said.