Mercury putting on rare show Monday, parading across the sun

Starting at 7:35 a.m. ET, it will take more than five hours for Mercury to pass from one side of the sun to the other. Africa, Europe, and western Asia will be able to see it at Monday's sunset. Well, I'd advise against staring directly into the Sun and even more strongly against staring into the Sun through binoculars or a telescope.

"That's really close to the limit of what you can see", he said earlier this week.

The smallest planet's eccentric orbit means it doesn't often pass in front of the Sun from Earth's vantage point.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this view of Mercury transiting the Sun on May 9, 2016. Observers will get to see the transit taking place up to 2 minutes before or after these times, as the planet will appear to take a slightly different path across the Sun, said the Royal Astronomical Society.

Future transits of Mercury will happen in November of 2032, November of 2039, and May of 2049, but only the 2049 event will be observable from Santa Barbara.

After observing the transit of Mercury in 1677, Edmond Halley predicted that transits could be used to accurately measure the distance between the Sun and Earth, which wasn't known at the time. One team used the transits to indirectly calculate the effect of tidal forces of the Moon on Earth. But the transit isn't just an awe-inspiring spectacle; it has scientific importance, too. When measuring the brightness of far-off stars, a slight recurring dip in the light curve (a graph of light intensity) could indicate an exoplanet orbiting and transiting its star.

Mercury is the smallest planet in our Solar System; compared to the Sun, the planet will look like a tiny black dot smoothly sailing past the face of our star.

It is extremely risky to look directly at the sun through instrument eyepieces because concentrated solar rays can damage your eyes instantly and even blind you. Visit the Night Sky Network website to find events near you where amateur astronomers will have viewing opportunities available.

If you're in the USA, don't miss the show, as this is the last time a transit will be visible from the continental United States until 2049! Do not look directly at the Sun without a certified solar filter.



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