CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Mercury is putting on a rare celestial show next week, parading across the sun in view of most of the world, but you’ll have to look hard to spot the dot.
The solar system’s smallest, innermost planet will resemble a tiny black dot Monday as it passes directly between Earth and the sun. It begins at 6:35 a.m.
The entire 5 ½-hour event will be visible, weather permitting, in the eastern U.S. and Canada, and all Central and South America. The rest of North America, Europe and Africa will catch part of the action. Asia and Australia will miss out.
Unlike its 2016 transit, Mercury will score a near bull’s-eye this time, passing practically dead center in front of our star.
Mercury’s next transit isn’t until 2032, and North America won’t get another viewing opportunity until 2049. Earthlings get treated to just 13 or 14 Mercury transits a century.
Mercury will cut a diagonal path left to right across the sun on Monday, entering around the 7 o’clock mark and exiting around the 2 o’clock point.
Although the trek will appear slow, Mercury will zoom across the sun at roughly 150,000 mph, which is fitting, considering the plant was named after the fleet-footed messenger of the Roman gods.
NASA will broadcast the transit as seen from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, with only a brief lag. The transit also will be broadcast at space.com.
Scientists will use the transit to fine-tune telescopes, especially those in space that cannot be adjusted by hand, according to Young.
It’s this kind of transit that allows scientists to discover alien worlds. Periodic, fleeting dips of starlight indicate an orbiting planet.