Mercury to cross in front of the sun on Veterans Day

By Gary Zientara
Mount Sangre Observatory
Posted 11/7/19

Since ancient times, planet Mercury has been shrouded in mystery primarily because it's so close to the sun that relatively few earthlings have seen it.

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Mercury to cross in front of the sun on Veterans Day

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Since ancient times, planet Mercury has been shrouded in mystery primarily because it's so close to the sun that relatively few earthlings have seen it.

Mercury is on the fast track. It orbits the sun every 88 days compared to our yearlong orbit. Mercury passes between us and the sun twice a year. You'd think we would see it more often, but this little speedster never ventures more than 28 degrees from the sun from our viewpoint.

When it is separated from "Old Sol" as far as it can be, it's still close to the horizon during morning or evening twilight. Luckily, I've seen it through with a naked eye several times during my lifetime, but it's always because I knew where and when to look for it. When I first saw it, Mercury reminded me of what Mars looks like because it's tainted red by the haze near Earth's horizon.

Next week we may get to see this elusive planet crossing the disk of the sun. Mercury's and Earth's orbits are not level with each other so these crossings (transits) don't happen very often - only about 13 times each century and always in either May or November.

As luck would have it, we have a chance to see a transit of Mercury on Veterans Day morning, Monday (Nov. 11). At sunrise, Mercury will already be "shadow boxing" with our home star. It will look like a little round sunspot not much larger than the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Because of it's relatively tiny size, Mercury will take a long time to transit the sun's disk. It will reach the midpoint at 8:19 a.m. Mountain Standard Time and Mercury's transit will end when it reaches the outer edge of the Sun at 11 a.m.

Unfortunately, because of the danger of almost instant permanent blindness from looking directly at the sun, it's imperative to use a special telescope equipped with an aperture filter that protects your eyes from the sun's dangerous glare. Since most of us don't have this type of equipment, I'm planning to photograph this event from Mount Sangre Observatory near Angel Fire.

Hopefully, the sky will be clear enough so I can share my photos with you in a future issue of the Taos News.

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