Astronomer Gene Zajac Keeps Put-in-Bay on Course with Universe

Plante Mercury across Sun
Image courtesy of Astronomy Now

There will be a transit of Mercury on Monday, May 9th, from approximately 7:30 am to 2:30 pm! Solar viewers will not be helpful as the planet is only 1/194 th the size of the sun. The sunspots will be larger but the planet will be a perfect circle as it passes between Earth and the sun. Mercury actually passes between the Earth and sun 3 times a year but an exact alignment only happens 13 times every century. The next one is in 2019!

Using a PROJECTED image of the sun for observing the transit is a safe way to view it. NEVER look directly at the sun! To project the image I use the telescope to send the image onto a piece of white paper. Binoculars on a tripod will work but I block off one lens at the front of the binoculars. I even tape a dowel rod to the binoculars or telescope lens to prevent the curious from looking directly at the sun. Again, NEVER look directly at the sun through these devises. Solar filters attached to the front lens of a telescope can safely be used. Another method I have used is a mirror projected image on a light-colored wall or large piece of cardboard. Caution must be taken to prevent people from looking at the mirror directly. The mirror needs to be stationary and a small compact type mirror works effectively.

The first transit of Mercury was seen in 1631 by French astronomer Pierre Gassendi and was predicted by Johannesburg Kepler. Only Venus and Mercury pass between the Earth and sun. The rover on Mars called Curiosity observed a Mercury transit from Mars in 2014. I wonder if an Earth transit from Mars will happen? Something to explore!

Hoping for clear skies!

–Gene Zajac, Village Astronomer