September 30, 2020

Transit of Mercury: the planet ‘walks’ this Monday on the Sun | Science

Mercury is located on Monday almost in a straight line with the Sun and Earth. A tiny point, which corresponds to the shadow of the planet, will pass slowly in front of the solar disk for four hours and 23 minutes after 13.37, Spanish peninsular time. The black ball will enter through the lower left and cross the Sun until it reaches the upper right. This phenomenon is observed only 13 times per century and the next transit is expected on November 13, 2032. May 9, 2016 was the last time such an exceptional event was visible from Spain.

The first time the planet's shadow could be seen sliding in front of the Sun was on November 7, 1631, about twenty years after the creation of the first telescope. Johannes Kepler it was who predicted the transit and Pierre Gassendi, a French scientist, who observed it first, following the advice of the German astronomer.

This Monday, almost four centuries later, this phenomenon can be seen in its entirety from the Canary Islands that broadcasts the video live for the rest of the peninsula, and can be seen on Two telescopes are involved: the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma Island) and the GREGOR Solar Telescope, at the Teide Observatory (Tenerife).

Observing transits helps us to tell the universe, to understand the position of the celestial bodies and their interactions

Alfred Rosenberg González, disseminating astrophysicist at Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC), explains that the observation of traffic will not be as spectacular as a solar or lunar eclipse. However, for astronomy, it is "very important" because it allows you to discover the environment of the planets and the distance they have with the stars. “Observing transits, although new technologies now exist, helps us to tell the universe, to understand the position of the different celestial bodies and their interactions,” he details.

The orbit of Mercury has an inclination of seven degrees with that of the Earth. The high value of this inclination causes the rarity of these phenomena because most of the time the planet, as is also the case of Venus, passes or above or below the Sun. This fact only happens when Mercury is situated at a point determined from its orbit, or very close to it, called the orbital node. At 16.20 the central moment of the phenomenon occurs. While at the beginning of the event the Sun will be high in the sky, 28 degrees above the horizon, at its central moment there will be only about 16 degrees of separation between the horizon and the solar star.

The transit of Venus (which has an inclination of 3.4 degrees), however, is not anticipated for more than a century. César Gonzalez, technician of the Planetarium of Madrid, therefore insists on the "pleasure of seeing something that happens so little."

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