The planet Mercury


As a kid, I devoured books about astronomy. My brother Leonard actually gave me a telescope for my tenth birthday. But I was handicapped: I was afraid of the dark. Not good for a budding astronomer.



Over the years, I’ve gotten out more, and I am no longer afraid to get out under the dark sky and look up at the stars and planets. I only wish I still had that old refracting telescope; it was only 60x, but it wasn’t bad. I saw some wonderful sights with it: the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter (dim little stars ranged out along the planet’s belt, just as Galileo saw them), and the phases of Venus. The Moon, huge and cratered. The Pleiades, a flower-garden of stars. The Hyades, ditto. The Orion Nebula, a dim mysterious flickering patch of light.



I tried fitfully to see some of the rarer sights – nebulae, the Andromeda Galaxy, etc. – but I was handicapped in several ways:



  • The Pacific Northwest is not a good place for viewing, as the air’s usually pretty thick.

  • Remember how I said I was afraid of the dark?



I’ve seen a lot, though.



But I’ve never yet seen Mercury.



Mercury is elusive. It never gets far away from the sun; you can only see it in early evening or early morning, just before sunrise or just after sunset. It’s just another star that dims with the sunrise, or sets quickly after the sun.



Every year I buy an almanac and look for the times of year when Mercury will be most visible.



And to date – after almost fifty years of on-and-off looking – I still have not seen it.



I’m sure it’s lovely. I like thinking about it: that bright hot little orb buzzing like a crazy hornet around the sun, showing itself low on our horizon only once in a while.



Maybe if I actually got up before dawn one of these days . . .



And what are the chances of that?



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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