Veterans Day 2019 Transit of Mercury: What You Need to Know!

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On November 11, 2019, the planet Mercury, when viewed from our home on Planet Earth, will pass between Earth and the sun—a planetary transit across the face of the sun.

Above: A composite photograph of the 2016 transit of Mercury  © NASA/JPL.

Safety First

The sun is visible to the naked eye (obviously), but Mercury is so small and distant, you cannot view the event without a telescope, binoculars, or a telephoto camera lens. IMPORTANT: These devices need to be specially built for solar viewing or properly filtered. For information on how to safely view and photograph the event, please click here. DO NOT combine magnifying optics (telescope, binoculars, etc.) with solar eclipse viewing glasses. This will overpower the viewing glasses and lead to permanent eye damage or blindness.

Who are the players?

Mercury, Earth, the sun, and you!

What is happening?

Mercury, on its 88-day orbit, will pass directly between Earth and the sun.

Where can you view it?

This November 11, 2019 transit is visible anywhere that you can see the sun during the duration of Mercury’s journey across the face of the sun. This means it is visible in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and French Polynesia.

When will this happen?

This transit of Mercury will happen on November 11, 2019, over a five-and-a-half-hour span. The first contact starts at 12:35:27 GMT, greatest transit is at 15:19:48 GMT, and final contact is at 18:04:14 GMT. For viewers on the United States East Coast, the transit starts at 07:35:27 and ends at 13:04:14 EST. Sunrise in New York City on November 11 will be at 0638.

Why is this happening?

Because we live in a heliocentric solar system and the orbital distance and periods of the inner planets vary.

What other fun facts are there?

Since we are the third planet from the central star in the center of our solar system, only Venus and Mercury give us these spectacles. When outer planets align with Earth and the sun, it is called “opposition.” This event is much rarer than a solar or lunar eclipse. The next time we can see a transit of Mercury will be in 2032. Transits of Mercury happen about 13 times every 100 years, and always in May or November. In comparison, if you missed the 2012 transit of Venus, you have to wait 90 years for the next one on December 11, 2117. See you there!

Planetary transits outside our solar system are now regularly observed, and this is how we have detected planets orbiting neighboring stars.

With Mercury orbiting the sun every 88 days, why don’t we see more transits? Well, similar to the way the Earth and Moon have offset orbital planes, Mercury’s orbit is inclined 7° to the Earth’s orbital plane (or is Earth inclined 7° to Mercury’s orbital plane?), so, when it passes between the Earth and Sun, about every 44 days, it is usually above or below the sun from our vantage point on Earth.

Mercury is a small planet and far from Earth. This means that its width covers 12 arcseconds when viewed from Earth. Comparatively, the ball of the sun is 150 times larger. Therefore, Mercury reveals itself as a tiny black dot against a relatively large ball of fiery sun.

Stay tuned to B&H in Space for the latest on the event, including articles on how to safely view and photograph the event as well as for information from our B&H Event Space presentation and viewing event on November 11! And if you're planning to photograph this historic event, click here to learn about some of the appropriate gear you'll bneed.

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