Mercury putting on rare show Monday with parade across sun

Pablo Tucker
November 9, 2019

11, brings with it the opportunity to watch as the solar system's smallest planet, Mercury, passes between Earth and the sun.

Planetarium staff are setting up safe specialized solar viewing telescopes for curious individuals to watch Mercury during its journey. That includes the East Coast of North America, as well as South America, western Europe, and far-western Africa. The transit or passage of a planet across the face of the Sun is a relatively rare occurrence to view.

From anywhere in the country where skies are clear, Mercury can be seen crossing the sun with binoculars or a telescope.

Mercury will take five-and-a-half hours to cross in front of the sun on Monday.

Scientists say what's known as the "Mercury transit" only happens about 13 times a century.

Venus transits are much rarer.

This chart shows the track that Mercury will follow during Monday's transit.

The transit begins with Contact 1, which is the instant when the planet's disk is externally tangent to the Sun.

Odhav advised people never to look at the sun directly or through a telescope without the correct filters. This unusual apparition happens again just as Mercury becomes engulfed by the sun's disk.

Because the planet's orbit around the Sun is tilted, it normally appears to pass above or below our nearest star.

This event is called a transit. Periodic, fleeting dips of starlight indicate an orbiting planet. From this data, astronomers can then calculate the size, orbit, and even some physical properties of these alien worlds.

On the morning November 11, United Kingdom amateur astronomical societies and public observatories will be running events where members of the public can safely enjoy the transit, as well as live webcasts of the spectacle. Virtual Telescope promises to have coverage from Earth-based telescopes, while NASA's sun-watching satellite SOHO will offer a dramatic perspective on the transit via its own livestream from space.

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