Sunday, 8 May 2016

Clear Skies - Viewing the Transit of Mercury Monday morning

As I mentioned in my last Clear Skies, tomorrow (Monday, May 9) we will be able to see a transit of Mercury, an event that will only happen 14 times this century.  We won’t have another opportunity in our area to see one this good until 2032.

The orbits of Earth and Mercury are slightly tilted in relation to each other, so when Mercury passes between the Earth and the Sun, it is usually slightly above or below the Sun.  However, every now and then it will pass directly between the Sun and Earth.  When this occurs, we will be able to see Mercury as a small dark silhouette against the Sun.

NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER PROTECTION; use either an actual solar filter, #14 Welder’s Glass, or solar eclipse glasses.  Still, Mercury is less than 5,000 km across while the Sun is almost 1.4 million km across, so without a telescope you will not be able to view this.

Monday’s transit starts before the Sun rises for us in BC, and will finish for us just after 11:30.  I will be setting up a telescope – with a proper solar filter – on the Qualicum Beach waterfront, just up island from the Beach Hut (and just a bit before Rotary Park if you are coming from Qualicum/Parksville).  I invite anyone who would like to view this event to join me from about 9:30 a.m. up until 11:30.

If you happen to be in the Nanaimo area, the Nanaimo Astronomy Society will also be setting up several scopes with solar filters in Mafeo Sutton Park, from about 9 a.m. until 11:30.  They will also have special Hydrogen-Alpha telescopes which can show the massive solar flares emanating from the Sun's surface!

Clear skies.

David

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