UVI Invites Public to Solar Transit of Mercury

Katie Ramirez
November 9, 2019

A transit can only take place when the Earth, Mercury and the sun are exactly in line in three dimensions. That includes the East Coast of North America, as well as South America, western Europe, and far-western Africa. Australia and most of Asia are out of luck. After this year's event, the next Mercury transit will occur on November 13, 2032.

At the Washburn Observatory event, we'll be able to view the transit safely.

Mercury - the innermost planet of our solar system - will pass directly in front of the sun and be visible through telescopes with solar filter as a small black dot crossing the sun's face. Greg Scheiderer's Seattle Astronomy blog lists several, including a gathering that he's planning to host at Seacrest Marina Park in West Seattle at 7 a.m. PT Monday (weather permitting).

The entire 5 ½-hour event will be visible, weather permitting, in the eastern US and Canada, and all Central and South America.

Every 88 years Mercury completes each orbit around the sun, and passes between the Earth and sun every 116 days. The most recent transit of Mercury was in May, 2016. The next transit of Mercury will be in the year 2032, but it won't be visible here.

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You'll need proper eye protection for Monday's spectacle: Telescopes or binoculars with solar filters are recommended.

Don't get your hopes up for a Venus transit next - that won't happen until 2117. "You can go online and see what's happening near you". "So Mercury's going to probably be too small". Earth has to be at just the right spot in its orbit.

Although the trek will appear slow, Mercury will zoom across the sun at roughly 150,000 miles per hour (241,000 kph). Scientists will use the transit to fine-tune telescopes, especially those in space that can not be adjusted by hand, according to Young. Periodic, fleeting dips of starlight indicate an orbiting planet.

We want to remind you that aiming a telescope or binoculars at the Sun is a unsafe operation, requiring special equipment and techniques, and therefore best left to experienced observers.

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