On Monday May 9, the Solar System is putting on quite a show for us. For the first time in a decade, Mercury will pass between the Sun and Earth. If you’ve got the right gear (and favourable weather conditions), you can head outside and watch it for yourself. Otherwise, hang with us and stay glued to the live stream above, via Slooh.
The whole thing kicks off just after 7am EDT (9pm AEST, 11am UTC) on May 9, and Mercury will take around 8 hours to make its glorious way across the Sun.
Look Up! On Monday You Can Watch Mercury Cross the Sun
On Monday, May 9, you will be able to watch planet Mercury traverse the Sun. The price of admission is a telescope and special solar filter, or a friend who has said items, or a local astronomy club with festivities planned to celebrate the rare celestial event. So what’s going on up there?
Conceptually, we all understand that planets rotate and orbit the Sun at varying speeds and distances. Unless you’re an astronomer, however, things can get a little murky when you start trying to really visualize things. The effects of axial tilt or even the phases of the Moon can be challenging to picture without resorting to holding tennis balls next to light bulbs.
The things we non-astronomers have somewhat of a grasp on (the arc of the Sun across the sky, for instance) are offset by the things that are a bit more confusing than you might think (the Moon’s path across the sky over the span of a month). Even then we’re sometimes locked into a very geocentric understanding of things.
In short, orbital mechanics is hard for most of us to really grasp, and so every new illustration of Newton’s laws at work helps.
Enter the transit of Mercury. There, clear as day (pun intended), you will be able to watch a planet as it orbits our star, and you can finally believe Copernicus without having to learn Latin and read De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and a Mercurial year—the time it takes to revolve around the Sun—is a scant 88 Earth days. Moreover, because of its slow rotation on its axis, one day on Mercury lasts 58.6 Earth days. This means on a Mercury colonist’s second birthday, he or she would only be three days old.
Mercury’s orbit is the most eccentric of the planets circling the Sun, and depending on the time of its year, it could be as close to the sun as 29 million miles and as far away as 43 million. This doesn’t make for consistent temperatures. At its coldest, Mercury can be -280°F. At its warmest, it can reach 800°F.
So how do you witness the transit of Mercury? Here’s one way, in three easy steps.
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