Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mercury Transit May 9, 2016

Hey Space Placers!

Safety Note: Do NOT look directly at the Sun or photograph it as injury to your eyes and damage to your camera will result. Tips on how to safely and properly view the Sun are here  How to safely photograph a transit is discussed here and applies to Mercury as well as Venus.

With all of these clouds and rain we haven’t seen too much of the sky lately and tomorrow’s forecast predicts more of the same here in Virginia. The planet closest to the Sun, Mercury, will move across the face of the Sun as seen from Earth in an event astronomers call a “transit”. Mercury transits the Sun 13 or 14 times each century. The last time this occurred was November 8, 2006 and the next transit will be on November 11, 2019. Hopefully you were able to view Mercury last month 

For the East Coast USA the transit starts at 7:12 A.M. EDT and lasts until 2:42 p.m. EDT with the midpoint being at 10:57 a.m. EDT. Mercury is so small you cannot see it with your eyes and need a properly filtered telescope to see it. Details of the event are provided here   and here   

6/5/12 pic of the transit of Venus taken through a properly filtered telescope
Greg Redfern
In the Washington, D.C. area the following events are taking place:

NASA will have coverage of the transit and there will also be an hour long program broadcast and images posted as detailed in the news release.

National Air & Space is holding a viewing event

University of Maryland Observatory   will have telescopes available.

David M. Brown Planetarium, Arlington

You can check with your local astronomy clubs, observatories and planetariums in your area to see if they are holding an event.

The safest and easiest view of Mercury’s slow movement across the face of our enormous star will be by watching live on the Internet. There are several venues for you to choose from:

You can learn more about the planet Mercury here NASA’s MESSENGER mission, which involved our very own Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory rewrote the textbooks on Mercury.

Be sure to see this month’s night sky sights when the clouds clear.

When it is dark you will see bright Jupiter high in the southeast sky all month. The four main moons of Jupiter    can be seen in binoculars and mimics the view Galileo would have had in his crude telescope in 1610 when he discovered them. NASA’s Juno spacecraft    is closing in on the king of the planets and is due to arrive July 4, 2016.

If you are up late - around 11:00 p.m. - the Red Planet Mars and Saturn await your gaze. Mars will be closest to our planet on May 30th and it is stunning as a reddish-colored ‘star’ in the southeast sky. Do not confuse Mars with the reddish-colored star Antares that is almost directly below it - Mars will be much brighter. The Greek name Antares means ‘rival of Mars’ and this month you can really see why the star got its name.

Mars has several active and planned missions exploring it from orbit and on the surface . It is a fascinating world and in amateur sized telescopes   actual features can be seen for the next several months. I hope to get some pictures to share with you.

Saturn is a yellowish-colored ‘star’ to the lower left of Mars. NASA’s Cassini mission   has been studying the ringed planet for 11 years and is still going strong.

Mars, Saturn and Antares make a beautiful triangle in the sky this month. If you have a dark sky you can see the gorgeous Milky Way to their lower left. The view will be best around 2:00 a.m. in the South over the next week before the Moon starts to light up the sky.

As you can see there is much to enjoy in the sky this month. I hope you can join me at Shenandoah National Park  Peaks of Otter Lodge    or Capon Springs and Farms    for one of my lectures and sky viewing sessions.

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