Mercury putting on rare show Monday, parading across the sun

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In this composite image provided by NASA, the planet Mercury passes directly between the sun and Earth on May 9, 2016 in a transit which lasted seven-and-a-half-hours. On Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, Mercury will make another transit, visible from 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. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Mercury is putting on a rare celestial show next 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 directly between Earth and the sun.

Unlike its 2016 transit, Mercury will score a near bull’s-eye this time, passing practically dead center in front of the sun. The entire 5 1/2-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.

Weather permitting, a viewing session will be available to the public on November 11 at the UMass-Amherst Sunwheel. UMass astronomers plan to set up telescopes to safely observe the planet’s movement between 7:36 a.m. to 1:04 p.m. They will also be available to take questions and provide information during the event. 

According to Stephen Schneider, professor of astronomy at UMass-Amherst, Mercury is so small that a transit can only be seen through a telescope. He says that to prevent serious eye damage it is extremely important to view it only using properly designed filters. There is no time during a transit when it is safe to look at the sun directly, and Mercury is too small to be seen through eclipse glasses, he warns.

The UMass Amherst Sunwheel is located south of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road about one-quarter mile west of University Drive. Visitors to the Sunwheel should be prepared for wet footing.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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