Mercury putting on rare show Monday, parading across the sun


Mercury will look like a small black dot on the sun starting at around 7:35 a.m. EDT.

A rare transit of Mercury will take place on Monday, November 11, when it passes between the Earth and the Sun and the next transit time will be only in 2032. During the transit, when Mercury is close to the edge of the Sun, it is possible to see the "black drop" effect, where a broad line appears to connect the planet to the solar limb.

Mercury will cut a diagonal path left to right across the sun on Monday, entering at bottom left (around the 8 hour mark on a clock) and exiting top right (around the 2 hour mark). When measuring the brightness of far-off stars, a slight recurring dip in the light curve (a graph of light intensity) could indicate an exoplanet orbiting and transiting its star.

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

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A Mercury transit happens only about 13 times a century. On an average, there will be 13 or 14 transits of Mercury each century. the first transit was seen in 1631, nearly 20 years after the invention of the telescope by French astronomer Pierre Gassendi. This could be done by having observers at distant points on Earth look at the variation in a planet's apparent position against the disk of the Sun - a phenomenon known as parallax shift. A transit happens when a planet crosses in front of a star. Transits of Mercury and Venus enabled some of the first attempts to measure the Astronomical Unit (AU), the distance between the Sun and the Earth. It can lead to serious and permanent vision damage.

Venus transits are much rarer. See the transit map below to learn when and where the transit will be visible. You will not be able to view this event without a telescope and the appropriate filter. Try looking for a viewing party at a museum or planetarium near you.

"Viewing transits and eclipses provide opportunities to engage the public, to encourage one and all to experience the wonders of the universe and to appreciate how precisely science and mathematics can predict celestial events", Mitzi Adams, a solar scientist in the Heliophysics and Planetary Science Branch at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a post on NASA's website.