Monday will present a rare opportunity to see a solar transit

11 Novembre, 2019, 00:54 | Auteur: Therese Cote

Mercury is the smallest planet in our Solar System; compared to the Sun, the planet will look like a tiny black dot smoothly sailing past the face of our star.

A rare event that happens about 13 times every 100 years, Mercury will be passing between the Earth and the Sun. The only time we see an inferior planet transit is when the Earth and the Sun lie roughly along the line between the nodes of its orbit - the two points where the path of the planet's orbit intersect the ecliptic, known as the ascending and descending nodes.

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. The orbits of the major planets exhibit slight tilts relative to the ecliptic; all are in the 1 to 2 degree range except for Venus at 4 degrees and Mercury at 7 degrees. However, because Mercury is so small, you won't be able to see it just with solar-filtered eclipse glasses.

A Mercury transit, as it's called, occurs only 13 times in 100 years, according to NASA, and it won't be seen from North America again for another 30 years, or from anywhere until 2032. Well, I'd advise against staring directly into the Sun and even more strongly against staring into the Sun through binoculars or a telescope.

Mercury transits have always been useful tools for scientists. A transit happens when a planet crosses in front of a star.

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Edmund Halley used a transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769 to determine the absolute distance to the Sun.

It is extremely risky to look directly at the sun through instrument eyepieces because concentrated solar rays can damage your eyes instantly and even blind you. But remember, don't look directly at Mr. Sun.

However, some binos and scopes have filters on the front that block out enough sunlight that you can safely look through them, including the solar telescopes at Science North. See the transit map below to learn when and where the transit will be visible. Visit the Night Sky Network website to find events near you where amateur astronomers will have viewing opportunities available.

The last Mercury transit took place in 2016, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured unprecedented images of the event, at a higher resolution than ever before.

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