Mercury is about to pass in front of the Sun and it will be beautiful
The tiny planet Mercury will travel in front of the Sun next week in a rare and beautiful ‘transit’.
Mercury is the smallest world in our solar system (if you agree that Pluto isn’t a proper planet) and is only slightly bigger than Earth’s moon.
It’s also the closest planet to the Sun, which means it orbits the star much more quickly than all the other worlds in our solar system.
Now you’ll get the chance to see this mini-world as it crosses in front of the Sun during a rare ‘transit’ which happens only 13 times a century.
But beware: Mercury is too small to see without high-powered binoculars or a telescope, and looking directly at the sun, even with sunglasses, could cause permanent eye damage.
‘It’s a rare event you won’t want to miss!’ Nasa wrote.
Transits are important in astronomy because they allow astronomers to detect planets orbiting alien stars.
But here on humanity’s homeworld, they give us a chance to contemplate the wonder of the universe and (perhaps) realise the pettiness of our Earthly concerns.
They will also permit the unwary to properly mess up their eyes, so we’d advise extreme caution.
You will need binoculars and telescope fitted with sun filters.
The best way to see the transit is probably to watch it on a live stream, such as the one being hosted by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which also wrote:
‘The transit of Mercury occurs when the planet Mercury crosses directly between the Sun and the Earth, blocking out a small part of the Sun’s rays. During the transit, Mercury appears as a tiny black dot moving across the disc of the Sun.
‘Mercury and Venus are the only planets that can be seen transiting the Sun from the Earth, as they are the only planets that orbit within Earth’s orbit.’
Nasa has offered its own advice on observing the transit of Mercury.
It wrote: ‘With the proper safety equipment, viewers nearly everywhere on Earth will be able to see a tiny dark spot moving slowly across the disk of the Sun.
‘Because Mercury is so small from our perspective on Earth, you’ll need binoculars or a telescope with a Sun filter to see it. You might also be able to attend a viewing party at a local museum or astronomy club event.
‘Looking at the Sun directly or through a telescope without proper protection can lead to serious and permanent vision damage. Do not look directly at the Sun without a solar filter.’
The transit of Mercury will begin at 12.35pm GMT on November 11 when Mercury’s outline will appear to touch the edge of the Sun.
It will reach the centre at about 3.19pm before finishing its journey at 6.04pm.
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