By: Geoff Gaherty
Published: 06/20/2012 10:42 AM EDT on SPACE.com

As the moon makes its monthly journey around the Earth, it has regular close encounters with planets and stars along its path. Last week it passed close to Venus and Jupiter at dawn and next week it will pass by Saturn. But this week, it's Mercury's turn.

On Thursday night (June 21) Mercury will be just to the right of a very thin crescent moon for observers in North America. Despite its brightness, Mercury is the least often observed of the classical planets. That's because it never strays very far from the sun, so must be spotted against a bright twilight sky. Having the moon as a pointer is a real boon for finding Mercury. It gives your eyes something to focus on, and narrows down the territory to search.

Even so, binoculars can be a great help in spotting Mercury. Focus on the moon, low on the western horizon, and then sweep up to the right to spot Mercury.

see mercury

If you own a telescope, have a look at Mercury through it. Like Venus and the moon, Mercury shows phases, though they may be hard to make out on its tiny disk in the night sky.

Take a close look at the moon, especially with binoculars or a telescope. To the left of the bright crescent you should see the rest of the moon shining faintly under the sunlight reflected back by the Earth.

While you have your binoculars handy, see if you can spot the twin stars of Gemini, Pollux and Castor, just above and to the right of the Mercury.

Observers in the southern hemisphere will have an easier time of spotting Mercury, because the ecliptic, the path of the sun, moon, and planets, is almost perpendicular to the horizon at this time of year. Look for Mercury just above the moon, and Pollux and Castor above Mercury.

This article was provided to SPACE.com by Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Loading Slideshow...
  • First American Woman In Space

    On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. The California-born physicist, then 32, was also the youngest American astronaut at the time. Ride went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

  • Boron Isolated

    French scientists announced the isolation of the element boron (atomic number 5) on June 21, 1808. Louis-Joseph Gay-Lussac and Louis-Jacques Thenard reported their discovery just nine days before an English chemist announced similar research.

  • UFO Crash Dismissed

    On June 24, 1997, the U.S. Air Force released a report officially dismissing claims that a UFO had crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The document, "The Roswell Report, Case Closed," denied any evidence of an alien landing at the site, claiming the widely reported "crash" was actually nothing more than a government program that was testing parachutes.

  • Moon Of Pluto Discovered

    Charon, the largest moon of the dwarf planet Pluto, was discovered on June 22, 1978 by astronomer James Christy. Charon, which is covered in ice and has no atmosphere, was named after Christy's wife, Charlene.

  • Alaskan Pipeline Goes On Line

    On June 20, 1977, the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline began delivering oil from Alaska's North Slope. Though criticized for its impact on a delicate ecosystem, the pipeline is considered an epic feat of engineering.

  • Landmark Creationism Ruling

    The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Louisiana "Creationism Act" on June 19, 1987. The law had prevented the teaching of evolution in public schools unless teachers also taught biblical creationism. Justice William J. Brennan (pictured here) led the 7-2 decision, now considered a major stride for science education in public schools.

  • SpaceShipOne

    The first manned private spaceflight occurred on June 21, 2004, when Mike Melvill piloted SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 62 miles. Built by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen, the one-of-a-kind craft garnered the $10-million Ansari X Prize.

  • Galileo Recants

    On June 22, 1633, Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was forced to repudiate his heliocentric theory of the solar system, which says that the Earth orbits the sun. First proposed by Copernicus, the theory was considered heresy by church authorities in Rome.

  • Darwin's Tortoise Dies

    On June 23, 2006, a tortoise believed to have been captured by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands died of of heart failure at an Australian zoo. The celebrated reptile--whose age at death was estimated to be 175 years--was considered a national treasure, and was cared for by famous "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin.

  • Way Before The MacBook...

    On June 23, 1868, American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes received a patent for his "Type-Writer" machine. The machine described in the patent helped spark a revolution in communications. Sholes is also credited with the QWERTY keyboard layout.

  • River On Fire

    The Cuyahoga River caught on fire in Cleveland on June 22, 1969. The river, which had been used as a dumping ground for local industrial plants in the area, was likely sparked by a passing train. Outrage over the fire helped fuel the nascent environmental movement.

Also on HuffPost: