Monday Offers Chance To See Mercury Cross The Sun

Nov 8, 2019

Veteran’s Day, Monday, Nov. 11, brings with it the opportunity to watch as the solar system’s smallest planet, Mercury, passes between Earth and the sun.

When the moon passes in front of the sun, scientists call that an eclipse.  But when far tinier Mercury does it, it’s referred to as a “transit.”

And it’s not common to witness, said Clay County physics teacher and WJCT’s go-to Sky Guy Thomas Webber.

“It's rare because three things have to be at just the right spot. Earth has to be at just the right spot in its orbit. Mercury has to be at that similar point, where the plane of our orbit and the plane of Mercury are intersecting, and then we have to make sure Mercury is itself, is there.” 

As Mercury makes its way from one side of the sun to the other, everyone along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard should be able to watch its passage through a telescope with special solar filters.

It will look like an itty-bitty black dot, Webber said.

“It may sound unimpressive, but it's another world that normally we wouldn't have the opportunity to see like this,” he said.

Mercury’s 5.5-hour transit starts around 7:30 a.m. Monday and ends around 1 p.m.  

Watch it streamed live from the Griffith Observatory here.