Western offers safe viewing of rare Mercury transit

On June 5, 2012, citizens of Earth were presented with a very rare opportunity to witness a transit of Venus when the planet passed directly in front of the Sun.

This Monday (May 9), it’s Mercury’s turn to do the same. Scientists from Western University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration, in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, will provide excellent viewing opportunities for media and the general public inside and outside the Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory.

The event is scheduled to run on Monday, May 9 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information, please visit http://physics.uwo.ca/community/cronyn/transit_of_mercury.html

According to Western astronomer Jan Cami, these passes – known as transits – are rare because the orbit of Mercury is tilted as it relates to Earth’s orbit around the Sun, giving the illusion that it generally moves above or below the Sun from our point of view.

Transits of Mercury happen more frequently than transits of Venus because Mercury is much closer to the Sun. Nevertheless, these are fairly rare events. The last time Mercury crossed the Sun was November 8, 2006; the next two Mercury transits will be on November 11, 2019 and November 13, 2032 (although the latter one won’t be visible from North America).

Mercury will appear as a tiny black dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun. Anyone who wants to witness this event must take extreme caution to not look directly at the event without proper eye protection as severe eye damage can result in seconds. Moreover, Mercury is too small to be seen with the unaided eye – binoculars or telescopes with adequate filters are required to see the transit. Faculty, staff and students from Western’s Department of Physics and Astronomy have organized diverse and safe viewing opportunities for the May 9th event. Astronomers will provide eclipse glasses that allow participants to observe the Sun and will also show the transit through various telescopes, including special solar telescopes.

There will also be special presentations during the event about Mercury and transits in the nearby Spencer Engineering Building; demonstrations of how astronomers use transits to discover planets around other stars; and a virtual walking tour through the Solar System, laid out to scale on campus.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Renaud, Senior Media Relations Officer, 519-661-2111, ext. 85165, jrenaud9@uwo.ca, @jeffrenaud99

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