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Transit of Mercury Tomorrow!

For those of you who can stop thinking about the election for a moment, be advised that there is a Transit of Mercury taking place tomorrow. The last one took place on May 7, 2003, and the next one isn't until May 9, 2016. A transit is when a planet appears to cross the face of the sun. From Earth we can only observe Transits of Mercury and Transits of Venus.

Transits of Mercury are more frequent and less exciting than Transits of Venus, so Nomi and I have no plans to observe this one live, as we did for the Transit of Venus back on June 8, 2004. (And anyway, the weather prediction for Massachusetts tomorrow is for clouds and rain.) But for those of you in our hemisphere who wish to observe it, the Transit should be visible from much of the United States. It begins at 2:12 pm EST (7:12 pm GMT) and ends close to 7:08 pm EST (12:08 am GMT Thursday). That means those of you in the Pacific Northwest will actually be able to observe the whole Transit, from beginning to end; those of us in the East Coast will see the sun set before the Transit is complete.

For more information and some nice graphics, Sky & Telescope's website has a great article: Mercury's Day in the Sun.


i assume you have special filters to view this? how can a non-astronomer safely view a transit?
Actually, I'm not planning to watch it. (And the clouds preclude it, even if I wanted to.) But to watch it safely, you absolutely do need a special filter or a set of eclipse glasses. Or, you could create a mini pinhole camera and create an image of the sun on a card, and then view that image.

But whatever you do, DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN! (But you already know that.)
and unmagnified you can see mercury against the filtered solar disk? that's a 3000-mile-diameter sphere 60,000,000 miles away against a sun 864,000 miles across and 93,000,000 miles away.
Honestly, I'm not sure. When the transit of Venus happened, it was actually possible to see Venus against the sun's face without a telescope, but yeah, a telescope made it a lot easier.
Considering the weather, I doubt any New Englander will see the transit.

December 2016

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