Mer­cury to streak across sun Mon­day in once in a blue moon event

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Mar­cia Dunn

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Mer­cury is putting on a rare ce­les­tial show this week, parad­ing across the sun in view of most of the world.

The so­lar sys­tem’s small­est, in­ner­most planet will re­sem­ble a tiny black dot Mon­day as it passes be­tween Earth and the sun. It be­gins at 7:35 a.m. EST.

The 51⁄2-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 pass 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.

You’ll need proper eye pro­tec­tion for Mon­day’s spec­ta­cle: Tele­scopes or binoc­u­lars with so­lar fil­ters are rec­om­mended. There’s no harm in pulling out the eclipse glasses from the to­tal so­lar eclipse across the U.S. two years ago, but it would take “ex­cep­tional vi­sion” to spot mi­nus­cule Mer­cury, said NASA so­lar as­tro­physi­cist Alex Young.

Mer­cury is 3,000 miles in di­am­e­ter, com­pared with the sun’s 864,000 miles.

Dur­ing its 2012 tran­sit of the sun, larger and closer Venus was barely de­tectable by Young with his so­larview­ing glasses.

“That’s re­ally close to the limit of what you can see,” he said last week. “So Mer­cury’s go­ing to prob­a­bly be too small.”

Venus tran­sits are much rarer. The next one isn’t un­til 2117.

Mer­cury will cut a di­ag­o­nal path left to right across the sun Mon­day, en­ter­ing at bot­tom left and ex­it­ing top right. Al­though the trek will ap­pear slow, Mer­cury will zoom across the sun at roughly 150,000 mph.

NASA’S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CEN­TER

In a com­pos­ite im­age pro­vided by NASA, the planet Mer­cury will cut a di­ag­o­nal path left to right across the sun.

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