Mini Mercury skips across sun’s vast glare in rare transit

The planet Mercury is seen in silhouette lower left as it transits across the face of the sun

Mercury is tiny. But it's a big deal for thousands of amateur astronomers in the Western hemisphere who will be watching the planet on Monday as it makes a transit across the disk of the sun. According to NASA, the transit only occurs around 13 times per century. It's a rare transit when the planet is visible while it moves against the Sun's surface, and shouldn't be missed at any cost.

Starting at 7:35 a.m. ET, it will take more than five hours for Mercury to pass from one side of the sun to the other. But Mercury is shut to the solar and somewhat far from Earth, so, as opposed to the moon, it only seems as a tiny dot against the backdrop of the solar through the transit.Due to the fact Mercury is so small compared with the sun, only observers with a specially outfitted telescope can see it. You won't be able to see its colour Monday, but it's generally greyish and covered in craters.

Transits are not only fun cosmic events to observe, but they were also important in the development of early astronomical knowledge.

The planet's orbit has an incline of seven degrees, in relation to Earth's orbital plane, so it is rare that Mercury and Earth are on the same level and side of the Sun as they cross our host star.

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Prior to the year 1585, Mercury transits took place in the months of April and October.

It will look like a small black silhouette moving slowly across the sun's disk from just after sunrise until minutes after noon. "A real triumph for the Kepler calculations!" Its last transit was in 2016 and the next won't happen until 2032. Volunteers, mostly students spread across more than a dozen sites in the USA, will equipment identical to each other to take simultaneous images of the transit, allowing them to replicate the historical experiment.

Remember, you're never supposed to look at the sun because it'll blind you, and that goes doubly for looking at the sun through any magnifying device, like binoculars or a telescope. But you'll have a prolonged time to wait to see the up coming transit of Venus, which will not transpire till 2117.

According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mercury "will be as close as it is going to get to the center of the Sun". Kepler detected a dip the star's brightness as an exoplanet transits, much as Mercury slightly dims the sun as it passes between it and the Earth. While Monday's transit shouldn't provide the same problems and subsequent insights, it remains a link to the hunt for worlds beyond the solar system.

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