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The rise and fall of Mercury

June 2006: Both the innermost and outermost planets put on good shows this month, competing with Jupiter for observers' attention.
It takes just 3 or 4 weeks for the solar system's innermost planet to pop into view, swing through a short arc in the evening twilight, and slump back into the Sun's glare. Unlike the outer planets, which offer several months of good viewing, you need to plan carefully to catch fleet-footed Mercury.

First, choose a spot with an unobstructed view toward the west-northwestern horizon. Mark the point on the horizon where the Sun sets. Return 30 to 45 minutes later with binoculars and scan just above your mark. You won't miss the bright, peach-colored dot glowing against the orange twilight. Mercury will be tough to see before May 27, but it gets easier with each passing day as the planet moves farther from the Sun and climbs higher in the darkening sky.

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