Thursday, 14 November 2019 14:29

Transit of Mercury

WILTON — The Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park scheduled a viewing party for the transit of Mercury last Monday, Nov. 11, for the morning or early afternoon, depending on weather.

However, the sky was overcast the entire day, and thus the event was cancelled. This is unfortunate because while transits may happen in pairs occasionally, such as how the previous transits of Mercury were in 2003 and 2006, there will not be another Mercury transit until 2039. 

Howard Lester, the Astronomy Coordinator for the Preserve, said that they had scheduled three amateur astronomers with telescopes to view the event.

Two of them were using white light filters so that people could look at the sun without causing permanent damage, while Lester himself was using a “Hydrogen-alpha” telescope, which only views certain wavelengths of light, allowing viewers to not just see the sun, but also some of its more delicate features, like the arcs of plasma called prominences that come from what passes for its surface.

Lester added that if the sky had been clear enough to view the transit, Mercury would have looked like a small black dot on the surface of the sun, slightly bigger than half a percent of the star’s diameter. 

Part of the reason why transits are interesting to astronomers is because by looking at a planet or other body with a star on the other side, we can learn more about the transiting body’s properties, such as whether it has an atmosphere, and if so what the atmosphere is made of. 

For more information about the transit and other upcoming transits, visit eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.

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