Mercury Transit May 9, 2016

Get Ready for the Mercury Transit May 9, 2016!

Solar Kick-Off: Telescope Tips 

If you’re into astronomy like me, you’re chomping at the bit to experience the solar eclipse coming up in August 2017.  This eclipse promises to be a truly once in a lifetime experience, with over two minutes of totality visible from a huge swath of North America. But what’s a solar astronomer to do for the next 15 months until showtime?

Fortunately, to get our fix, there’s a semi-rare opportunity to see the Solar System’s innermost planet transit the Sun on May 9, 2016. To get the best view of Mercury’s transit, a filtered telescope is essential (and by filtered, make no mistake, it MUST be a front aperture solar filter or specialized solar telescope for safe viewing!)  Filtered binoculars can pull it off, but the disk of Mercury will be a mere 12 arcseconds in diameter – it will look like a dot at best. However, you’ll easily resolve a disk with a telescope, and it will be rewarding to see that disk cross over the Solar System’s fusion powerhouse.

When magnification is involved (let’s say 60x or higher), it’s generally recommended to have a telescope that tracks. Keep in mind computerized go-tos like the NexStar SLT 127 can be aligned on the Sun during the day, which is a huge advantage for outreach events where quick tracking is essential.

Mercury transiting the Sun (sunspot on left, Mercury on right), captured November 8, 2016. © by Bryan Cogdell

 Events like these give me a special appreciation for our Solar System’s incredibly changeable and active nature.  Here we are, able to watch our Sun slinging a planet around its mighty gravitational pull in broad daylight, in just under 7.5 hours. Setting up a telescope just before dawn and catching a glimpse of Mercury as the sun rises is a small effort for a great view, and a great way to start the work day. I hope you’ll join me.

Be sure to check back to see new images of the Mercury Transit!

Reference pages:

Find equipment for the Mercury Transit here:

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