Mercury to appear as tiny black dot in rare 'transit' across sun

Ruben Fields
November 10, 2019

Transit of Mercury occurs about 13 -15 times in a century, and will not again occur until November 2032 adding it usually happens during May and November months. Because the planet is so tiny and so close to the sun, it doesn't block the sun's light, as the moon does during an eclipse.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is a space-based instrument staring at the sun, will be capturing imagery as Mercury photobombs the sun.

The transit begins at 1235 GMT and ends at 1804 GMT, when Mercury appears to enter on one edge of the Sun and exit on the other. During a transit, the interceding body is not sufficiently large to cover whatever it's moving in front of.

"Transits are a visible demonstration of how the planets move around the sun, and everyone with access to the right equipment should take a look", Mike Cruise, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said in a statement from England.

In 2004 and 2012, Earth was treated to some rather spectacular transits of Venus. Kepler didn't survive to see the transits, but French astronomer Pierre Gassendi became the first person to see the transit of Mercury. Scientists discovered they could use that phenomenon to search for planets orbiting distant stars. Periodic, fleeting dips of starlight indicate an orbiting planet. It's important to use a Sun filter from a reputable vendor; you'll also need a telescope that is capable of at least a 50x zoom.

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The solar system's smallest, innermost planet will resemble a tiny black dot Monday as it passes directly between Earth and the sun.

First things first, NASA is reminding the public that it is very unsafe to look directly at the Sun - doing so puts the person at risk of permanent vision damage.

The transit of Mercury is expected to be spotted in Greece shortly after 2.30 p.m. and will last for around five hours, according to experts.

In fact, the only places it can't be seen from are Australia and most of Asia and Alaska, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. By the time the Sun rises on the West Coast, Mercury will have been transiting the Sun for almost two hours.

Don't have access to a telescope or binoculars with a solar filter? Try looking for a viewing party at a museum or planetarium near you.

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