A rare space event takes place on Monday, May 9.
This week kicks off with a rare highlight for astronomy fans. Planet Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun, which happens once in a decade. Mercury will appear as a small black dot (see above) as it travels in front of the sun over a time period of over 7 hours.
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NASA will have three satellites providing images of the transit and one of these will have an almost real-time video feed.
The 2016 Mercury transit will occur between about 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT says NASA, who will provide live coverage of the Mercury Transit.
Mercury circles the sun every 88 days, but Earth, the sun and Mercury rarely align. And because Mercury orbits in a plane that is tilted from Earth’s orbit, it usually moves above or below our line of sight to the sun. As a result, Mercury transits occur only about 13 times a century.
Space fans can see Mercury in front of the sun with a telescope or binoculars. It is mandatory that these are outfitted with a solar filter, else you risk damaging your eyes. This is similar to the safety requiremenet observing a solar eclipse.
“Astronomers get excited when any two things come close to each other in the heavens,” said Louis Mayo, program manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is a big deal for us.”
“Back in 1631, astronomers were only doing visual observations on very small telescopes by today’s standards,” said Mayo.
Since then, technological advancements have allowed us to study the sun and planetary transits in greater detail. In return, transits allow us to test our spacecraft and instruments.
Scientists for the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO (jointly operated by NASA and ESA, the European Space Agency), and NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, will work in tandem to study the May 9 transit. The Hinode solar mission will also observe the event. Hinode is a collaboration between the space agencies of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The Mercury transit 2016 will be streamed on NASA's site at www.nasa.gov/transit. To get an idea what you will see today, you can watch the Mercury transit from 2006 below.
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