Rare 'Mercury transit' across sun spotted

May 09, 2016, 8:30 PM EDT
Three planets dance over La Silla. (Source: European Southern Observatory/flickr)
Three planets dance over La Silla. (Source: European Southern Observatory/flickr)
Astronomy groups offered the chance to see the rare journey of Mercury across the sun from Earth via filtered telescopes on Monday, as the planet traveled in its orbit, visible from Earth against the sun’s backdrop, from 11:12 until 18:42 GMT. The BBC reports:
 
Live views from space and ground telescopes were also available online.
 
They showed Mercury as a tiny black circle, smaller but darker than many sunspots, slowly traversing the Sun's giant yellow disc.
 
Mercury spins around the Sun every 88 days, but its orbit is tilted relative to the Earth's. It is that discrepancy which makes it relatively rare for the three bodies to line up in space.
 
 
 
According to NASA, the phenomenon only happens about 13 times a century, when the orbits of Earth, Mercury, and the sun line up. The “Mercury transit” last occurred in 2006, and won’t happen again until 2019, said Kathy Reeves, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
 
“It’s a relatively rare event,” Reeves said. “The orbits are actually a little bit tilted, so Mercury and Earth don’t always line up right so that we see Mercury and Earth pass in front of the sun.”
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