Upcoming Astronomical Event Will Give You A Glimpse of Mercury

Nov 8, 2019

NASA projection of a Mercury crossing the sun.

A rare astronomical event where people can catch a glimpse of planet Mercury gliding across the sun will take place on Monday, but NASA scientists says it’s not visible to the naked eye.

Scientists say what’s known as the “Mercury transit” only happens about 13 times a century.  

“Earth and all of the planets in our solar system are orbiting the sun in a plane.  So, that means that we are basically all in a flat pancake compared to the sun,” said NASA astrophysicist Padi Boyd.  “On very special days, when all of the geometry lines up, we on Earth can watch the planets that are closer to the sun than us.  Venus or Mercury pass right in front of the face of the sun.”

From anywhere in the country where skies are clear, Mercury can be seen crossing the sun with binoculars or a telescope.  Such devices need solar filters on the lenses to protect the eyes from damage.

“We are lucky that we have all kinds of technology to help us see this event,” Boyd said.  “Lots of astronomy clubs will have telescopes set up if the conditions are good.  Some science museums will have events.  You can go online and see what’s happening near you.”

Liberty Science Center in Jersey City is hosting a special event with a telescope set up for people to view the “Mercury transit.”

Prime viewing time depends on which time zone you live in.  Astronomy experts expect the transit to begin in the eastern time zone around 7:35 a.m. on Monday, lasting for about five and a half hours.