Mercury ‘marathon’ across the sun

2016-06-01 06:00

ON 9 May the planet Mercury made a seven-hour transit across the face of the sun for the third time in the 21st century.

Unlike transits of Venus, the transit of Mercury is harder to spot because it is not visible to the naked eye when viewing the sun through a filter. This is due to a combination of smaller planet size and a greater distance away from Earth than Venus is.

Transits of Mercury happen more often than transits of Venus, about 13 times in 100 years.

At 1.11pm local time Mercury began to move over the face of the sun. With the help of a solar filter placed over binoculars steadied on a tripod, I was able to view this spectacular event. The planet was revealed as a tiny round black dot and moved leftwards from the top right side of the solar disc. Mercury appeared slightly smaller than a sunspot present near the centre of the sun’s surface. The transit was still under way as the sun set just after 5pm.

Although a tiny black dot moving over the face of the sun seems like a mundane event to most, it allowed me to appreciate the impressive scale and beauty of the solar system. I am already looking forward to the next transit on 11 November 2019, a simple but extraordinary phenomenon.

Alex Zwolinski Clarendon

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