NASA will broadcast a stunning view of Mercury on May 9 as it journeys across the sun. The event, known as a transit, occurs when Mercury passes directly between Earth and the sun. This rare phenomenon will cause Mercury to look like a black dot gliding across the sun’s face. Mercury’s last transit was in 2006, and it won’t happen again until 2019!
Starting at 7:12 a.m. EDT, Mercury will spend more than seven hours travelling across the sun. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory will take the first near real time, ultra-high definition images ever for this event. This is also an opportunity for NASA scientists to fine tune the spacecraft’s cameras, using a method that can only be done during a transit.
NASA scientists are available Monday, May 9 from 6:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EDT to show your viewers amazing images of this event as it unfolds. Scientists will also share why transits are important, and how they’re being used to learn more about planets in our solar system—and beyond.
Scientists have been using transits for hundreds of years to study the planets in our solar system. When a planet crosses in front of the sun, it causes the sun’s brightness to dim. Scientists can measure similar brightness dips from other stars to find planets orbiting them, and can calculate their sizes, how far away the planets are from their stars, and even get hints of what they’re made of. Upcoming NASA missions will watch for transits outside our solar system in order to find new planets, including some that could resemble Earth.
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1. Mercury is trekking across the sun today for the first time in 10 years. How can we see this transit?
2. Why are transits so important to astronomers?
3. Why does NASA watch the sun?
4. NASA is using the transit method to study planets beyond our solar system. What do we expect to learn from future missions doing this?
5. Where can we learn more?
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