Mercury poised for rare 'transit' across sun's face on Monday

By REUTERS
May 8, 2016 14:14
1 minute read.

 
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Stargazers will have a rare opportunity on Monday to witness Mercury fly directly across the face of the sun, a sight that unfolds once every 10 years or so, as Earth and its smaller neighboring planet come into perfect alignment.

The best vantage points to observe the celestial event, known to astronomers as a transit, are eastern North America, South America, Western Europe and Africa, assuming clouds are not obscuring the sun. In those regions, the entire transit will occur during daylight hours, according to Sky and Telescope magazine.

But Mercury is too small to see without high-powered binoculars or a telescope, and looking directly at the sun, even with sunglasses, could cause permanent eye damage.

Fortunately NASA and astronomy organizations are providing virtual ringside seats for the show by live-streaming images of the transit in its entirety and providing expert commentary.

The tiny planet, slightly larger than Earth's moon, will start off as a small black dot on the edge of the sun at 7:12 a.m. Eastern (1112 GMT). Traveling 30 miles (48 km) a second, Mercury will take 7.5 hours to cross the face of the sun, which is about 864,300 miles (1.39 million km) in diameter, or about 109 times larger than Earth.

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