Published: Sun, November 10, 2019
Tech | By

Mercury putting on rare show Monday, parading across the sun

But we're about to get a rare and spectacular view of the tiny world as it sails across the sun in an event known as a transit.

How can you see it? We call this the ecliptic, because that's where solar eclipses happen. You probably donned a pair of ISO-certified, polycarbonate glasses and stared up at the sky in wonder.

Mercury is 3,000 miles in diameter, compared with the sun's 864,000 miles. That's what makes it look so tiny from Earth.

It's this kind of transit that allows scientists to discover alien worlds.

The transit will begin shortly after sunrise on the East Coast. By the time the Sun rises on the West Coast, Mercury will have been transiting the Sun for almost two hours. The transit will wrap up at 1:04 p.m.

The event is visible from the eastern United States and Canada, the south-western tip of Greenland, most of the Caribbean, central America, Southern America and some of west Africa.

A look at locations that will be in line to experience the transit.

For the Pacific Coast, it's a sunset transit. Asia and Australia will miss out.

People will need the magnification of a telescope (minimum of 50x) with a solar filter to view the transit.

Japan's Hinode spacecraft captured this image of Mercury passing in front of the sun on November 8, 2006, using the spacecraft's Solar Optical Telescope instrument.

You should never, under any circumstances, stare directly at the sun without proper protection. "So Mercury's going to probably be too small". That could cause permanent and irreversible eye damage.

This image of the Mercury transit's final minutes was taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on May 9, 2016, with its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. You can tune into the live stream here.

A few readers have asked about producing pinhole cameras as they did for the eclipse. The Virtual Telescope Project will have a viewing on its website.

Future transits of Mercury will happen in November of 2032, November of 2039, and May of 2049, but only the 2049 event will be observable from Santa Barbara. That's mainly because of how Earth aligns with Mercury's orbit.

The Curiosity rover on Mars observed the planet Mercury transiting the Sun in 2014, the first time a planetary transit was seen from a celestial body other than the Earth.

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