Mercury’s rare transit delights local skywatchers

Cosmic event will assist in the hunt for other planets

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – For the first time in 10 years, Mercury passed directly between the Earth and sun on Monday, resembling a black dot on the face of the solar disk.

The cosmic show — which began at 7:12 a.m. EDT — was visible from the eastern U.S. and Canada, as well as other parts of the globe.

Tim Collins, a senior presenter at the Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium at Buffalo State College, made the rare imagery available for anyone who was interested.

“This is definitely an opportunity to witness something that you don’t get a chance to see every day,” said Collins, who was able to project the images on a white board using a telescope and lens.

Kyle Olden happened to be passing through when he noticed the outdoor exhibit.

“I think it’s awesome. I’m really happy that there’s at least someone here that’s sharing the same kind of interests in this thing as I’m showing,” said Olden. “I think it’s really cool not only to be able to see Mercury in transit in front of the sun, but he’s pointing out the sunspot that’s there too. That’s just awesome.”

Ilana Vatkin, a Buffalo State student, stopped to watch the imagery.

“It’s definitely great that people are sharing this with us,” said Vatkin. “I think this stuff is super cool.”

The last time this happened was 2006.

“It will not happen again until 2019. And if we go to the next phase after that it would be 2032 before we see it again in the next cycle,” said Collins. “It only occurs about twice every ten to thirteen years.”

Mercury — which normally hides in plain sight — takes a while to line up between the sun and the Earth.

It’s practically invisible — until now.

“It takes 88 days to circle the sun. It takes 59 days for it to turn once; like we have 24 hours, Mercury takes 59 days,” Collins added.

Scientists will be watching the transit closely to glean all sorts of new insights about space.

Collins says this is one of the most common ways that scientists are discovering plants around other stars.

“The same method, called the transit method, where a planet around another star will pass in front of its disk causing a drop in the light curve,” he said. “And when that happens at a cyclic rate we found a planet around another star.”

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