Mercury to Transit the Sun
Celestial event can be seen live via webcast
On Nov. 8, 2006, Mercury will pass directly between the sun and the Earth, a transit that will cause the tiny, innermost planet to appear as a small black shadow moving across the bright solar disk.
A special event at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Ariz., will offer the public a unique opportunity to view the transit, which is invisible to the naked eye, in real-time through the observatory's specially filtered, 16-inch, public-outreach telescope.
From moments before the transit begins at 2:12 p.m. Eastern time, through its conclusion 5 hours later, anyone with access to the Internet will see the small planet's shadow slowly pass across the sun. A media team from the National Science Foundation-supported Exploratorium in San Francisco will webcast the live event.
Kitt Peak is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
To watch the event, go to: www.exploratorium.edu/transit
At the top of every hour, commentary and interviews with Kitt Peak astronomers will provide context to the celestial event. Andrew Potter of NSF's National Solar Observatory (NSO) will share how the world's largest solar telescope--Kitt Peak's McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope--is allowing him to make special observations of Mercury's thin atmosphere against the backdrop of the sun and its known spectral signature.
Potter will also use NSF's high-resolution Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope, located at the NSO's Sunspot, N.M., observatory atop Sacramento Peak, to search for traces of a sodium atmosphere around Mercury. Kevin Reardon of Osservatorio di Arcetri in Arcetri, Italy, will use the same facility to observe the sun's features, using Mercury as a knife edge to enhance spatial resolution. Both observations will use a special, tunable imaging instrument provided by Arcetri.
The aptly named Sunspot is also the location of the U.S. Air Force's Optical Solar Patrol Network (OSPaN) telescope, a semi-autonomous patrol telescope supporting space weather studies and forecasts that is operated in collaboration with the NSO. During the transit, scientists will collect near real-time images and movies, eventually posting the latest at: http://nsosp.nso.edu/data/latest_solar_images.html.
Scientists across the globe will be monitoring the transit closely. This event will not occur again until May 9, 2016.
Additional information is available from the press releases linked below.
About Kitt Peak:
About the Exploratorium:
About the National Solar Observatory:
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
Useful NSF Web Sites: