Mercury Rising: Mercury Moves Between Earth and Sun for First Time in 10 Years
Mercury moves across the face of the Sun for the first time in 10 years, as it casts a shadow across South America, Africa, Western Europe and the east of North America.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and the smallest and fastest-moving one in the solar system, and its transit will take approximately six and a half hours.
The “winged messenger”, which is slightly larger than the Earth’s moon, could be viewed with a pair of binoculars or a telescope, and experts warn against looking directly at the Sun during Monday’s event, Al Jazeera writes.
“On no account should anyone try to look directly at the Sun to see Mercury, as this is incredibly dangerous,” Robert Massey of the UK-based Royal Astronomical Society told Al Jazeera.
NASA and the European Space Agency are livestreaming images of the event, while many astronomical observatories around the world have opened their doors to view the event, which gives an insight into the solar system.
“Seeing the silhouette of a planet in motion in front of the Sun is a clear demonstration of the solar system in action,” said astronomer Francisco Diego of University College London.
Watch the NASA demonstration here:
The transit is also an example of how scientists detect planets in other solar systems, where they are mostly hard to see because they are lost in the glare of the star they circle.
Since the last time Mercury transited the Sun, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft spent four years orbiting around the planet, before being deliberately crashed into its surface last year.
The mission revealed Mercury’s moon-like surface in unprecedented detail, scarred by the collision of asteroids and meteorites, and what is believed to be ice at the planet’s poles.
“Planets in our own solar system are particularly helpful, because we can see them close up and learn vastly more about their similarities and differences than is possible for more distant planets,” Andrew Pontzen, a lecturer at University College London, told Al Jazeera.
Mercury will next transit between Earth and the Sun in 2019, and then in 2032.
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