Transit of Mercury – 9th May 2016
We’ve all heard of Mercury haven’t we? Planet closest to the Sun? You may have even seen it at some point in the sky, although it’s tendency to appear in the lighter morning or evening skies can make it difficult to pick out.
On the 9th of May, Mercury will be making a Transit of the Sun, meaning it will pass between us and the Sun, so we will be able to see it as it passes across the bright solar disc. This is a great opportunity to view the planet and see it in context with the Sun.
If you have suitable equipment, you will be able to observe the Transit as it occurs from around lunchtime on the 9th into the evening (UK). It isn’t a “blink and you’ll miss it” event, so there is plenty of time, but it is a fairly rare event, having last happened in 2006. When they occur, transits are generally visible in May and November and the May ones are the best opportunity to view taking into account the position of the Sun and Mercury. This is the last May transit for 33 years.
I’m planning to have a look and see if I can’t get some images of the sun using my white light filters and video camera. I would love to have some dedicated Ha Filters or a PST telescope – but they don’t come cheap, so that is something for the future – but a white light filter is still enough to see the action as it happens.
****A GENTLE REMINDER THAT VIEWING THE SUN WITHOUT TAKING THE PROPER PRECAUTIONS CAN LEAD TO PERMANENT BLINDNESS, SO PLEASE BE SENSIBLE IF YOU PLAN TO LOOK FOR MERCURY AND ENSURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT****
(I am not taking responsibility for anyone not taking heed of the above)
Right, disclaimers out of the way.
As you can see from the tutorial HERE it is fairly easy to make a white light solar filter with some Baader film, which is easily available (there is a link in the tutorial). The tutorial shows a method for an 8 inch Dobsonian, but the principle applies to any aperture, as long as you make sure it is sealed, that you can secure it to your scope without it falling off and there are no pin-holes in the film. You can even make them for binoculars and finder scopes should also be covered with filters, caps or removed from the scope to prevent any accidental viewing of the Sun.
If you are unsure what you are doing, you really shouldn’t be doing it. Check out the Internet where I am sure there will be plenty of websites offering recordings and images of the transit if it happens.
So, barring lots of cloud or equipment failure, I will hopefully be able to post a picture or two of the event and record it for anyone unable to see it.
If you are going to have a look for yourself (or even attempt imaging) it would be great to hear how you get on, so let us know in the comments and post your pictures!
Have fun, but be careful with the Sun!