Mercury skips across sun's vast glare in rare transit

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"We could see prominences on the sun, which Cook and Green could never have seen, because my understanding is that their telescopes were protected by basically hot candle wax darkening on a piece of glass to protect the eyes, we were much safer but we could see a lot of detail".

According to NASA, Mercury will set its journey on November 11 across the sun at around 7.35 a.m. EST (1235 GMT).

The whole 5½-hour occasion will be obvious, assuming the rainclouds blow over, in the eastern US furthermore, Canada, and all Central and South America. The rest of North America, Europe and Africa will catch part of the action.

To experience the entire (five-hour-long) event, people in central and western United States will have to find a spot outside before sunrise; anyone watching from easterly regions can wait until just after daybreak. The next transit isn't until 2032, and North America won't get another shot until 2049.

"You can not use a regular telescope or binoculars in conjunction with solar viewing glasses", according to NASA.

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NASA also is posting images of the Mercury transit on its site.

Mercury is 3,000 miles in diameter, compared with the sun's 864,000 miles.

The last time Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun was in June 2004 and then again in June 2012, and won't be seen again until December 2117, so if you're reading this you've missed your last chance to see it - barring some pretty major medical advances in longevity and/or brain uploads.

"That is truly near the cutoff of what you can see", he said recently. 'So Mercury's going to probably be too small'. Edmund Halley used a transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769 to determine the absolute distance to the Sun. It crosses the Sun twice in eight years, and then doesn't reappear for over 100 years after that. Live coverage was provided by observatories including NASA's orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory. Researchers will utilize the travel to calibrate telescopes, particularly those in space that can't be balanced by hand, as per Young. Intermittent, passing plunges of starlight show a circling planet.

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