Mercury - the view from Earth and from Space

The nights of 24-25 January are a great time to see the planet Mercury.
The best time to look is within 10 minutes of 17:10 local time. Any earlier, and the bright glow of the Sun gets in the way; any later, and Mercury will be too low in the sky. At this time, Mercury will be 9 degrees above the horizon - about the size of your outstretched hand at arm's length above the horizon. You can find it in the south-west. It is visible to the unaided eye, but it can be a difficult planet to spot.
But, by the 30th of January, Mercury has disappeared, hidden in the glare of the Sun once again.
Mercury The reason why Mercury is so difficult to see (can you spot it in the photograph to the left?) is that it is the closest planet to the Sun, and so when we look in the night sky, Mercury is always pretty close to the Sun. But every 3 months there are a brief few days when Mercury gets to the extreme of its orbit, as viewed from the Earth.
Note to the expert amateur astronomers: the highest altitude of Mercury after sunset is different to the day when Mercury is at its maximum eastern elongation. So even though Mercury got to its most easterly point in its orbit on 22 January, it gets slightly higher in the sky at sunset for the following few days.
Mercury as seen by Messenger
The next time Mercury is around the evening sky is in mid May, when it will be 4 degrees higher in the sky at sunset, making it slightly easier to spot.
Mercury is also in the news thanks to the NASA Messenger probe. On 14 January, Messenger took some great pictures of Mercury during a close fly-by.