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New Yorkers Celebrate Rare Mercury Transit by Staring at the Sun (Safely) with Wonder

Former journalist Martin Evans (right) chats with two fellow guests of the Amateur Astronomers Association (AAA) gathering on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Floyd Bennett Field, New York. Peering through the Orion EZ Finder II telescope is a mother who brought her children to the viewing event; standing to the left is amateur astronomer Stephen Lieber.
Former journalist Martin Evans (right) chats with two fellow guests of the Amateur Astronomers Association (AAA) gathering on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Floyd Bennett Field, New York. Peering through the Orion EZ Finder II telescope is a mother who brought her children to the viewing event; standing to the left is amateur astronomer Stephen Lieber.
(Image: © Doris Elin Urrutia)

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. 

Related: Rare Mercury Transit, the Last Until 2032, Thrills Skywatchers Around the World

Amateur astronomer Artie Kunhardt (left) and a high school assistant principal stand near a telescope in Floyd Bennett Field, New York. They are gathered with about a dozen other guests to observe Mercury transit the sun on Monday (Nov. 11). (Image credit: Doris Elin Urrutia)

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. 

Biomedical student Andres Pena took this picture of Mercury as it crossed the solar disk on Monday (Nov. 11). Pena snapped the shot at around 9:20 a.m. local time (1420 GMT) from Weston, Florida, using a Celestron PowerSeeker telescope and a Nikon D3100 camera.  (Image credit: Andres Pena)

"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.

Related: Mercury Transit 2019: Photos, Videos and Explainers for the Rare Sight

Mercury begins its transit of the sun on Nov. 11, 2019. This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory as Mercury was approaching the limb of the sun to begin the transit. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/HMI/AIA)

"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.

Follow Doris Elin Urrutia on Twitter @salazar_elin. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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  • rod
    Glad to see these folks enjoyed views of the Mercury transit - it was great to watch.
    Reply