Published: Mon, November 11, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Mercury’s rare Sun transit will happen on Monday: Here’s how to watch

Mercury’s rare Sun transit will happen on Monday: Here’s how to watch

Today, November 11, 2019, we're in for a rare treat, as the innermost planet, Mercury, passes directly in front of the Sun for a few hours. The stellar show only happens about 13 times in a century and will happen the next time in 2032.

Want to catch a glimpse of Mercury?

Mercury's tiny disk, jet black and perfectly round, covers a tiny fraction of the sun's blinding surface - only 1/283 of the sun's apparent diametre.

The rare space event, known as Mercury in Transit, will see the planet at the front of the solar system travel across the face of the sun as seen from Earth. Central Standard Time (CST), this transit will last nearly six hours. According to NASA, "Your best bet is a telescope with a certified sun filter, but other options include solar projection boxes and sun funnels".

The transit of Mercury on November 11, 2019, begins at 7:35 a.m. EST but it won't be visible to West Coast viewers until after sunrise.

The Mercury will be witnessed as a dot during the transit.

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Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer Tom Kerss said: "Although Mercury overtakes us several times per year on its relatively quick journey around the Sun, we don't see transits every time, because Mercury's orbit is quite highly inclined relative to that of the Earth". But if you're in the U.S., you absolutely shouldn't miss it as this is the last time Mercury's transit will be visible from the United States until 2049.

Now remember, you should never look directly at the Sun without proper protection, as it can permanently damage your eyes.

You will also be able to watch the entire event online with several organisations live-streaming the transit, including the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, The Virtual Telescope Project and Slooh. By comparing how the planet shifted with the distance between the two observation points, observers could calculate the distance to the sun.

Prior to the year 1585, Mercury transits took place in the months of April and October. Only when Mercury's orbit crosses the plane of the Earth as it appears in line with the sun is a transit visible. That's what distinguishes a transit from an eclipse. "The next Venus transit won't occur until 2117".

A visible transit happens only when the Earth, Mercury and the Sun are exactly in line in three dimensions.

Not all transits are the same because the planets cross the Sun at different places, sometimes just grazing the Sun's outer edges.

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