NEW YORK — Near the edge of Jamaica Bay, about a dozen people gathered here to watch Mercury travel across the sun on Monday (Nov. 11).
Coffee and snacks from Dunkin' Donuts sat on a table stationed near three telescopes and a handful of cars. The Amateur Astronomers Association (AAA) of New York chose to come together in an empty parking lot on Floyd Bennett Field for the rare celestial event. Perhaps it was the contrast of empty space and a tightly gathered group that caught the eye of law enforcement; a police officer briefly visited the site.
The rare event, known as a Mercury transit, won't be visible from Earth again until 2032. Monday's transit could be seen across several continents and began at 7:35 a.m. EST (1235 GMT), lasting roughly 5.5 hours.
The organizer for the Floyd Bennett Field gathering was Artie Kunhardt, who told Space.com he's been a member of AAA since 1975. Kundhardt said he formerly worked in plane restoration as part of HARP, or the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project, also based out of Floyd Bennett Field. He had a Celestron NexStar 8SE computerized telescope with a protective solar filter pointed toward Mercury.
Thomas, an assistant principal from a Brooklyn high school, said he's been attending AAA events for seven years. With four students in tow, he said science literacy "all comes down to first-hand experience." To view Mercury's transit, he used a Celestron telescope with a Schmidt-Cassegrain solar filter. The instrument was also fitted with another filter to turn the solar disk yellow, he said, and with a computerized mount that allowed the telescope to track the sun's motion across the sky.
"Kids love dinosaurs and outer space," he said. In general, inviting students to observe a part of Mercury's approximately 5.5-hour journey across the sun's face was a way to get the kids to touch, do and feel. "With science, you can't just 'textbook' it," he added.
Another attendee was Martin Evans, who worked as a journalist for 35 years. "This is actually my first AAA event," Evans told Space.com. Prior to Monday's event, his skywatching experience included visiting a public library in Forest Hills to get a partial view of the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017.
According to Evans, his enthusiasm for astronomy was piqued because of basketball.
"While I was writing for The Baltimore Sun years ago, I fell into the company of [the] Johns Hopkins astrophysics department. Many of their astrophysicists were fellow basketball players, so I became [interested] in astrophysics from a very good group of guys. … I was a roommate with one of them and he turned me on to his astrophysics friends."
Periodical peeping through the telescopes showed Mercury's journey through the center of the solar disk, although one patch of clouds obstructed some viewing.
But beyond the celestial event, the group honored the holiday, Veterans Day. At 11:02 a.m., they observed a minute of silence.
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