The sun will have a close encounter with the planet Mercury traveling across its face on May 9, 2016, in one of this year’s most-awaited astronomical events. The transit of Mercury, as the event is called, occurs 13 times per century, the next one happening on November 11, 2019. After that, no transit will take place until November 13, 2032. Mercury’s orbit will bring it between the Earth and the sun, casting a small shadow across the solar face. A transit is only possible when Mercury, the Earth, and the sun are perfectly aligned in three-dimensional space.
The transit will officially begin at 7:12 a.m. on May 9 and will take seven-and-a-half hours for Mercury to complete its passage across the sun’s face. While this phenomenon takes place, it can be seen from nearly everywhere on Earth in the course of the day. With proper equipment, observers in parts of western Europe and Africa, eastern North America, and most of South America can watch the rare event.
According to Brantfod Expositor, Mercury is called an “inferior planet,” because it orbits closer to the sun than the Earth. And Earth’s twin, Venus, the second planet from the sun, is also an inferior planet, while the rest of the planets orbiting the sun, except Earth, are designated superior planets.
Transits of Mercury are more common, the last occurring in 2006, the next on Monday, May 9. First contact with the sun will be at 6:12:19 and it will end about seven hours later at 13:42:26, or just before 2 p.m.
According to Astrospeak.com, astrologists see Mercury as the planet related to business and finance, thus any change in its position has an economic consequence. A transit of Mercury is equated with an economic setback in the world. May 9, 1970, November 10, 1973, November 13, 1986, November 6, 1993, November 15, 1999, May 7, 2003 and November 8, 2006 are the past transit dates, also on record as negatively affecting the worldwide economic picture. There was a resulting crash in the stock market as well as in the financial and banking sector, astrologists like to tout as evidence of their legitimacy.
A Smithsonian report cautions stargazers that Mercury is only a tiny fraction of the size of the sun, and will therefore not be visible to the naked eye or even with binoculars. Directly observing the sun could be harmful to the eyes, so proper equipment is required to watch the transit safely. In blunt terms, you go blind if you look right at the sun with a bare telescope or binoculars.
Smithsonian says that NASA will post live images of the transit as it occurs, and there will be a livestream broadcast of the event from Slooh, as seen from observatories worldwide. Barring a cloudy day, the transit of Mercury should be a stunning sight to those lucky enough to watch it.
Here are the proper pre-viewing steps Techradar advises.
- Get set up with a telescope or pair of binoculars with a magnification of 50x to 100x, along with a tripod, some duct tape and a few large pieces of stiff white card.
- Cut a hole in one of the pieces of card about the same size as the front of the telescope or binoculars, for a light shield, and only one of the lenses is needed for binoculars.
- Tape the shield to the front so the lens pokes through but the light around it is blocked.
- Seal any leaks by using duct tape.
Point the binoculars or telescope toward the sun and position another piece of card at least a foot behind the eyepiece. Beware: looking at the sun through the eyepiece under any circumstances could literally burn a hole in your eye.
[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]