Mercury Transit on Monday: The Gear You Need to Watch It Safely

Mercury will pass across the face of the sun Monday (Nov. 11) in its first such "transit" since 2016.

The Mercury transit — which begins Monday at 7:35 a.m. EST (1235 GMT) and ends at 1:02 p.m. EST (1804 GMT) — is accessible to amateur astronomers, as long as they have the right equipment to view the event safely. (Warning: Never look directly at the sun without protection; serious and permanent eye damage can result.)

Here's a brief rundown of the ways you can safely watch the transit, either first-hand or live online.

Related: Mercury Transit 2019: Where and How to See It on Nov. 11 (opens in new tab)

Projecting the image

Mercury is so small that projecting the image using a simple pinhole camera, as many observers do to view solar eclipses, will not produce good results; it's likely you won't be able to see anything at all. Instead, you can project the image using binoculars, refractors or small Newtonian telescopes. (Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov designs can't be used for this, because of the risk of damage.)

Put a low-power eyepiece into your telescope (opens in new tab) — one that you don't mind losing if the sun's heat cracks it. Do not look through the eyepiece or the finder scope. Instead, align the telescope using its shadow on the ground. The more closely aligned the scope is to the sun, the darker and more circular its shadow will appear, according to the British Astronomical Association (BAA).

Take a piece of white paper and hold it about 1 foot (30 centimeters) away from the eyepiece to see the image. You may need to wiggle the telescope a bit to get a good view.

Physics lecturer Mohammad Baqir and his pet duck observed the May 9, 2016 Mercury transit using safe projection techniques. (Image credit: Mohammad Baqir )

Binoculars or telescopes

You can also outfit your binoculars or telescope with solar filters (opens in new tab) to view the transit. The type of solar filter depends on your equipment, so check with the manufacturer to see what's approved.

Alternatively, you can make your own filters using a sheet of Mylar or Baader AstroSolar Film (opens in new tab). Just be sure that the homemade filter is securely over the front end of your binoculars or telescope, with no cracks.

"It is essential that the filter fixes very securely to your telescope, that it is undamaged, and that it is designed for safe use with your telescope," the BAA officials wrote in a press release. "Only buy from reputable suppliers you trust, and thoroughly inspect your filters for damage every time you use them."

Filters designed for eyepieces should never be used because they are "of suspect quality" and often crack when exposed to the sun's heat, the BAA added.

Meade Solar Binoculars
Buy binoculars with solar filters from Amazon.com (opens in new tab)

Buy binoculars with solar filters from Amazon.com (opens in new tab).
These "EclipseView" binoculars from Meade Instruments have removable solar filters, so you can use them anytime — not just during the Mercury transit. 

Buy solar filter sheets on Amazon.com (opens in new tab)

Buy solar filter sheets on Amazon.com (opens in new tab).
These polymer sheets by Thousand Oaks Optical come in nine different sizes and can be used to observe the Mercury transit using telescopes, binoculars and cameras.

Celestron Solar Telescope
Buy telescopes with built-in solar filters on Amazon.com (opens in new tab)

Buy telescopes with built-in solar filters on Amazon.com (opens in new tab).
This "EclipSmart" telescope from Celestron (opens in new tab) has a built-in solar filter that is ISO-certified and comes with accessories and a carrying case. The telescope provides 18x magnification. 

A student uses his smartphone and a photographers lens with a solar filter to capture a photo of the planet Mercury transiting the sun on May 9, 2016. (Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

Community telescopes

Many museums or amateur astronomy organizations are holding special public events for the Mercury transit. So if you don't have your own gear, check the nearest science museum or astronomy club to see if they are going to set something up somewhere in your community.

You can find the nearest astronomy club in your area here. (opens in new tab) 

Watching online

Another option is to watch the transit from wherever you happen to be that day, which is especially handy if you are stuck at work or school. Space.com will show live webcasts from Slooh and the Virtual Telescope Project. 

The Slooh online observatory will begin streaming live views of the Mercury transit from telescopes around the world at 7:30 a.m. EST (1230 GMT). You can watch it live here on Space.com (opens in new tab) or directly via Slooh's YouTube channel (opens in new tab)

At the same time, astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy will also stream live telescope views of the transit. You can watch the free webcast live here (opens in new tab).

Meanwhile, NASA will post real-time images from its Solar Dynamics Observatory at mercurytransit.gsfc.nasa.gov/2019 (opens in new tab)

Editor's note: Visit Space.com on Monday to see live webcast views of the rare Mercury transit from Earth and space, and for complete coverage of the celestial event. If you SAFELY capture a photo of the transit of Mercury and would like to share it with Space.com and our news partners for a story or gallery, you can send images and comments in to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com

This article was originally posted on May 6, 2016 for the previous Mercury transit and has been updated for 2019.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Hanneke Weitering is an editor at Space.com with 10 years of experience in science journalism. She has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos. 

  • rod
    Hopefully some will be able to see the Mercury transit. I plan to view using my 90-mm refractor with white light solar filter, about 40x to 80x views so Mercury's 10" angular size will stand out sharply in the eyepiece view. Much depends upon local weather and cloud coverage. So if folks can view this celestial event - get outside and enjoy--Rod
    Reply