Mercury’s rare Sun transit will happen on Monday: Here’s how to watch

A screen-shot of the video shared by NASA

A screen-shot of the video shared by NASA

We call this the ecliptic, because that's where solar eclipses happen.

So far, two NASA space probes have visited Mercury, Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975, and MESSENGER, which orbited the planet from 2011 until a deliberate crash landing in 2015.

Mercury's orbit around the Sun takes 88 days to complete and it passes between the Earth and Sun every 116 days. Transits of Venus occur in pairs separated by 121.5 or 105.5 years, with eight years separating each transit; the next transit of Venus will occur in the year 2117.

The transit of Mercury will be partly or fully visible across much of the globe. Earthlings get treated to just 13 or 14 Mercury transits a century. They now occur in May or November.

Mercury transits have always been useful tools for scientists.

Do not try to observe this event directly with your naked eye, or through exposed film negatives, smoked glass, mylar, or multiple sunglasses - they will pass infrared radiation which will damage your vision. Instead, it's best to use a telescope with a solar filter, through which the transit will look like a small black speck passing in front of the Sun, which will appear 194 times larger than the speck.

It'll be visible from Minnesota as the sun rises Monday, continuing through about noon. The Virtual Telescope Project will have a viewing on its website. Pinhole projection or eclipse glasses will be inadequate. Carefully timed durations of a transit as viewed from widely separated locations on Earth, plus some fancy trigonometry, would yield the actual scale of the solar system, which previously could only be described in proportion to the AU. Unfortunately, our atmosphere and optical diffraction effects limited the accuracy of this method. Kepler didn't survive to see the transits, but French astronomer Pierre Gassendi became the first person to see the transit of Mercury.

Hopefully you'll have an opportunity to watch the transit on Monday.

Prof. Mike Cruise, president of the Royal Astronomical Society said, "This is a rare event, and we'll have to wait 13 years until it happens again.Transits are a visible demonstration of how the planets move around the Sun". Plus, find resources for engaging students in this rare celestial event!

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