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Mercury reaches its peak

Mercury puts on its best evening show of 2016 during April, but the solar system’s star attraction has to be brilliant Mars on its approach to peak visibility.
Mercury
While folklore implies that skywatchers might have to dodge April showers, the effort will be worth it. Several planets put on great shows this month, shining brightly and providing visual feasts for those with telescopes. Jupiter leads the way, dominating the sky from dusk until close to dawn, while Mars and Saturn take center stage after midnight.

But we’ll begin our solar system tour with a more challenging object. Mercury has its best evening appearance of the year during April. That’s because in early spring the ecliptic — the path of the Sun across our sky that the planets follow closely — tips steeply to the western horizon after sunset, so a planet’s separation from our star translates largely into altitude.

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