Arts & Culture / Mosaic / November 13, 2019

Mercury is observed as it passes over the sun

Mercury passes in front of the sun as picked up by NASA cameras. (Photo courtesy of NASA/SDO, HMI, and AIA science teams)

Monday morning, the western hemisphere was able to observe the passing of Mercury in front of the sun, also known as a transit.

Unfortunately for many states, the transit was not able to be seen due to unfortunate weather conditions and had to be watched from a live stream. Such was the case for those in Physics and Astronomy Club, who held a viewing event of the transit. Despite the circumstances, Vice-President Philip Griffin, senior, detailed the occurrence and how it happens.

“The planet, the earth and the sun all have to be in a straight line relative to each other,” he said. Due to varying orbital periods, it isn’t a regular occurrence. The last transit happened in 2016. The next one is set to occur in 2032.

Griffin also explained that the duration of the transit can vary based on how close to the center of the sun the planet gets as it passes over. The further away from the center it goes, the shorter it will be. The one observed this week had a fairly long transit, lasting from roughly dawn until noon.

The bad weather didn’t just plague western Illinois.

“Half the country is covered in clouds right now,” Griffin said, as he watched the transit from the Griffith Observatory live stream in Los Angeles.

Transits for Mercury generally happen about 13 or 14 times in a century. The transit can be predicted through calculations and our knowledge of orbital patterns. Several computations have to be done, but predicting these events can be calculated until infinity.

“You can predict out until the end of the sun’s life,” Griffin said.

Alicia Olejniczak, Associate Mosaic Editor

Tags:  astronomy mercury physics and astronomy club

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