Look up to spot the tricky planet Mercury at its 'greatest elongation' from the sun tonight

This sky map shows the view from New York City just after sunset on Jan. 7, 2022.

This sky map shows the view from New York City just after sunset on Jan. 7, 2022. (Image credit: SkySafari app)

The flighty planet Mercury, typically a tricky observing challenge from planet Earth, will be at its greatest distance from the sun in our sky Friday (Jan. 7).

While Mercury will be shining quite brightly at magnitude -0.6, the planet will be a mere 13 degrees above the horizon in New York City, still making it a challenging target. You might want to use binoculars if available.

But you will have some other planets to guide the way, according to In-The-Sky.org. As soon as the sky begins to grow dark after sunset, turn to the southwest sky. If you're lucky, you should see a sloping line of four planets: Jupiter (at the top), Saturn, Mercury and Venus. Mercury should be just underneath the yellowy Saturn. 

Related: How to see the brightest planets in January's night sky

To look at Mercury and other amazing sky sights in 2022, check out our guide for the best binoculars deals and the best telescope deals. Our guides for the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography can also help make sure you're ready to photograph the night sky. 

Mercury is an especially challenging target for naked-eye observers given that it's the closest planet to the sun. It spends much of its visible time nearly hugging the sun in our sky, making the planet hard to spot in twilight. (Warning: You should never look at the sun without protective eye equipment. Looking at the sun can cause permanent eye damage.) 

So, it's convenient that so many other planets are nearby to help point the way. The planets gathering in one spot this month is no mere cosmic coincidence, however. That's because the Earth and other worlds orbit the sun in the same approximate plane in the solar system, called the ecliptic

The sun and the moon also fall along the ecliptic, which can produce some interesting gatherings of planets and the moon several times a year. Sometimes the position of the sun and the moon can also produce solar eclipses or lunar eclipses.

Editor's Note: If you snap an amazing night sky picture and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photos, comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace