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Friday, November 10, 2006

Mercury -- a transitory mote in the eye of the sun

On Wednesday residents of my hemisphere saw (?) the planet Mercury transit the sun. This happens only about every decade. One really couldn't see Mercury because it is so small relative to the sun, which burns far too brightly for the naked eye to withstand. I watched the transit live from an astronomer's view (Kitt Peak, Arizona*) via the webcast by San Francisco's Exploratorium. The funny thing is that a speck in their Meade 16 inch reflector's optics showed up more prominently than Mercury itself. For a perspective on how small this planet appears from earth (only 1/200th the diameter of the sun) see this photograph from Nevertheless, when Mercury first hit the edge of the sun, the astronomer directing the webcast said the he and his colleague were doing a little "happy dance"! :) By virtue of owning an 8-inch Meade reflector, I am a very amateurish astronomer myself. Seeing Mercury was a rare treat worth savoring. Here's something really rare that's reported at Wikipedia: On July 5, 6757 residents in Eastern Siberia can watch the simultaneous occurrence of a solar eclipse and a transit of Mercury. If you want to see this, I advise you go there now, drink a barrel of vodka, set your atomic-powered alarm clock 4751 years ahead and, finally, bury yourself in the snow. Good luck and mind the mastodons!

*Located by red star on map showing zones of visibility. For great views of the telescopes, background narration and the transit itself, click the RealVideo link to the saved webcast.


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