Getting Ready for the Mercury Transit

Rare Event: Mercury to Cross the Sun Nov. 8
Approximate times (ET) for Mercury's transit across the Sun on Nov. 8, 2006.

Mercurytransits the Sun on November 8. In a previous article, "Shadowsand Silhouettes," we offered information on the upcoming transit, and ideasfor getting involved. With less than a week remaining, there's still time toprepare for a daytime astronomy event with a local amateur astronomy club orset up your computer to log into a webcast of the transit. Mercury transits theSun 14 times this century. Next Wednesday, you can observe the second transitof Mercury this century, come rain or shine, even if you're on the dark side ofthe Earth.

BESAFE: Mercury is tiny in comparison to the Sun: about 1/195th theapparent diameter of the Sun. You can't see Mercury without a telescope withmagnification of 50x to 100x. The requirements for observing the transit arethe same as for simply observing the Sun or photographing an eclipse. Solarfilters are required to assure safe viewing. In your search for Mercury, besafe. Don't look directly at the Sun, and especially don't look at the Sunthrough binoculars or telescopes. Permanent damage to your eyesight will resultif you do.

Howcan you get connected? This article is a quick user's guide to observing theMercury transit next Wednesday.

Forin depth information, go to NASA webpages at Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Fred Espenak manages this site oneclipses and transits where you will find a good discussion and details on theupcoming transit of Mercury, and a bibliography for those who wish to divedeeper into the science and history of transits.

Safe Viewing
Never look directly at the Sun with your naked eye or through a telescope or binoculars. Severe eye damage can result. With proper viewing filters, the transit will be visible with small telescopes. Viewers should use special, approved filters that can be purchased from reputable dealers of astronomy products.

The Sun's image and the shadow of Mercury can also be projected through a telescope onto a white screen, sheet of paper or wall.

Safe ViewingNever look directly at the Sun with your naked eye or through a telescope or binoculars. Severe eye damage can result. With proper viewing filters, the transit will be visible with small telescopes. Viewers should use special, approved filters that can be purchased from reputable dealers of astronomy products.

The Sun's image and the shadow of Mercury can also be projected through a telescope onto a white screen, sheet of paper or wall.

Safe Viewing
Never look directly at the Sun with your naked eye or through a telescope or binoculars. Severe eye damage can result. With proper viewing filters, the transit will be visible with small telescopes. Viewers should use special, approved filters that can be purchased from reputable dealers of astronomy products.

The Sun's image and the shadow of Mercury can also be projected through a telescope onto a white screen, sheet of paper or wall.

Forthe serious amateur, there's ALPO, the Association of Lunar and PlanetaryObservers. John Westfall is the section coordinator for the Mercury/VenusTransit Section of ALPO. He's written a detailed article describing theupcoming transit with a brief description of the best ways to observe thetransit. There are also instructions for how to submit your observations of thetransit.

Foreducators in schools and science centers, there are good lessons on transitsand how astronomers will use transits to find extrasolar planets. The NASA KeplerDiscovery Mission will seek evidence of other Earths around distant stars byobserving transits. You'll find Kepler Mission classroom activitieson planet finding at the mission website. The Astronomical Society of thePacific's Educator Newsletter is a further resource. It includes good diagramsand lessons to teach about Mercury and the transit. There's an extensive set oflinks to other related sites. There's an Englishlanguage version and a Spanishlanguage version.

Amateurastronomers will hold daytime star parties at many sites. You can connect withthem by locating your regional club. Many clubs belong to the Night Sky Network, anationwide community of amateurs who like to share astronomy with the public.You can locate a club near you at the NSN website. Science centers,observatories, planetaria, and astronomy clubs can also be located via Sky and Telescope's onlinedirectory of clubs and community organizations and The AstronomicalLeague's national directory. Take a look at these resources if you wish toobserve the transit with a group in your community.

If you areseeking a virtual experience, or if the clouds block the Sun in your community,you can still see the transit via your computer. The NASA DigitalLearning Network offers information, a live webcast, and classroom lessonsfor the Mercury transit. For a direct link to the webcast from Kitt Peak inArizona, connect to the Exploratoriumwebcast of the transit. Go early, and download the tools you might needfrom the site. The Exploratorium's Live@ crew will be at the Kitt Peak NationalObservatory, and, with the Kitt Peak staff, will webcast the transit: a livefive-hour telescope-only feed beginning at 11:00 am Pacific Standard Time. Thetransit will take place from 11:12 a.m. until 4:10 p.m. PST. It's a good ideato log in early to either the NASA or the Exploratorium site, as last minutearrivals are sometimes slow.

And,what about that little planet? If you're just curious about Mercury, there is good information andimages here on the space.com site. NASA is sending a spacecraft to explore theinnermost planet called the MercuryMessenger. Check out the plans!

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.