Tag Archives: Transit Of Mercury

CNYO Observing Log: Transit Of Mercury, 10 May 2016

Poster’s Note: A post from mid-May of this year never made it to the website. Posting now for the 2016 observing record.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The real-time global observatory that is the internet has made available to everyone, all the time, every particular astronomical event that occurs anywhere. That said, it’s always more fun to be able to turn the computer off and point a telescope to the sky to see something with your own eyes.

2016may12_Mercury_transitOur side of the planet was treated to one of the great joys of terrestrial observing – a transit of an interior (to us, anyway) planet across the face of our closest star, the Sun. The downtown Syacuse crowd for the Venus Transit in 2012 peaked at close to 350 people (far larger than the 2006 transit crowd of 10!) and was one of the best documented astronomical events in CNY thanks to local news reporters. The Transit of Mercury this past Monday, May 10th was comfortably smaller, perhaps proportional to the significantly smaller black spot that Mercury makes as it passes across the Sun. A wealth of access to internet and space science resources, however, has left some excellent lasting records of the event for us to enjoy (such as the picture at right, courtesy of Bob Piekiel. Click for a larger view).

2016may12_20308482_bob_largeWith the usual thanks to Glenn Coin at syracuse.com for promoting astronomy events here in CNY (and for taking the pic at right of Bob in action, click for a larger view), local folks were made aware of the Syracuse and neighboring sessions (see syracuse.com link). Schenectady, Hamburg, Rochester, Binghamton (thanks to our friends at Kopernik Observatory), and Marcellus (thanks to Bob Piekiel) were all on the docket. Those stuck at the office were made aware of viewing opportunities online thanks to an Associated Press post at syracuse.com as well (see syracuse.com link).

Glenn Coin took the trek out to Marcellus for Bob Piekiel’s session. His write-up can be found at:

syracuse.com/../2016/05/transit_of_mercury_viewing_in_cny_makes_me_feel_teeny.html

Bob Piekiel reported the following:

Chris [Schuck, fellow CNYO-er] and I kept them busy at the transit program this morning. Lots of folks mulling around with questions, cell phone cameras, and non-stop desires to see the view every few minutes. Skies were near perfect, with only a few clouds. Also, got some nice views of Venus, only 8° from the sun. Venus is so far away it is only 11 arc-seconds in size, compared to Mercury’s 10 arc-seconds. They both look about the same size in the scope, but one is white, the other was black!

Freshly displaced to Rochester, I enjoyed the start of the transit from Farash Observatory, home of the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Sciences.

2016may12_panofarash

A panorama of Farash Observatory (and deformed Coronado). Click for a larger view.

2016may12_davedaveI arrived at Farash Observatory with my Coronado PST in tow (in a small plastic box, that is) around 7:00 a.m. in time to set up, chit-chat with two Dave’s (manning the live stream in the image at right), Doug, and Bob, and catch the very start of the transit (by dumb luck at that. I started observing a minute before just to get things lined up and zoomed in). All were thrilled to see Mercury begin to transit at the same point that a bright prominence had grown (I overheard someone say “looks like Mercury’s got a tail”). ASRAS provided live streaming of the event on youtube through a CaK on the Farash grounds, then the dozen-or-so folks there early cycled through everyone else’s scopes for varying H-alpha and white light views of the transit. The transit through a solar-safe 16” Cave is quite impressive(!), with Sunspot 2542 visible below Mercury (below in the eyepiece and the flipped-around view the Newtonian scopes provide). Once home, I did what the majority of us were doing – checking NASA streams and the local club feeds for more sights until the transit’s end at about 2:42 p.m.

My own poor attempt at astrophotography (with an iPhone 6s and through the ASRAS 16″ Cave) is shown below, including a slightly smudged Mercury at upper right and Sunspot 2542 at lower right. For proper orientation, see the official NASA SOHO image of the Sun at its image repository (link here).

2016may12_cavetransit

163186109.kpdILVVp.mercury_transit_4A few others with a bit more patience (and a bit more money) really made the transit memorable with some fantastic movies. One .gif passed around on Facebook is shown at right from Tom Polakis using a Lunt 100 (click for a larger view) that shows the tail end of the transit. This is the kind of stuff amateurs can do from their backyard with a good scope and a decent camera (wait for the 4.2 MB .gif to load. It is definitely worth it)!

On the other hand, those with a much larger budget can put telescopes into space and produce the following video – courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Collective thanks to all for their tax dollars in bringing images like this to the masses.


Now we’re talkin’.

For those interested in taking in a more unobstructed view of the Sun, the next scheduled solar observing sessions in the Syracuse area are also being provided courtesy of Bob Piekiel and his considerable solar scope collection. The first is August 13/14 (Sat/Sun) at Clark Reservation, then August 27/28 (Sat/Sun) at Baltimore Woods.

We hope you don’t wait until another transit to take in some proper solar viewing!

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 30 March – 4 May 2016

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News Service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA’s Spitzer Maps Climate Patterns On A Super-Earth

RELEASE 16-040 (Click here for the full article) – 30 March 2016

55cnce_animated_frameskipObservations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have led to the first temperature map of a super-Earth planet — a rocky planet nearly two times as big as ours. The map reveals extreme temperature swings from one side of the planet to the other, and hints that a possible reason for this is the presence of lava flows.

“Our view of this planet keeps evolving,” said Brice Olivier Demory of the University of Cambridge, England, lead author of a new report appearing in the March 30 issue of the journal Nature. “The latest findings tell us the planet has hot nights and significantly hotter days. This indicates the planet inefficiently transports heat around the planet. We propose this could be explained by an atmosphere that would exist only on the day side of the planet, or by lava flows at the planet surface.”

The toasty super-Earth 55 Cancri e is relatively close to Earth at 40 light-years away. It orbits very close to its star, whipping around it every 18 hours. Because of the planet’s proximity to the star, it is tidally locked by gravity just as our moon is to Earth. That means one side of 55 Cancri, referred to as the day side, is always cooking under the intense heat of its star, while the night side remains in the dark and is much cooler.

For more information about Spitzer, visit: www.nasa.gov/spitzer

NASA To Attach, Test First Expandable Habitat On International Space Station

RELEASE M16-039 (Click here for the full article) – 12 April 2016

beam_berthed_to_iss_aft_port_node_3_concept_art_b_003The first human-rated expandable structure that may help inform the design of deep space habitats is set to be installed to the International Space Station Saturday, April 16. NASA Television coverage of the installation will begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the station’s Tranquility module over a period of about four hours. Controllers in mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will remove BEAM from the unpressurized trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, using the robotic Canadarm2, and move it into position next to Tranquility’s aft assembly port. NASA astronauts aboard the station will secure BEAM using common berthing mechanism controls. Robotic operations begin at 2:15 a.m. and are expected to be complete by 6:15 a.m.

BEAM launched aboard Dragon on April 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. At the end of May, the module will be expanded to nearly five times its compressed size of 7 feet in diameter by 8 feet in length to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length.

For coverage times and to watch the BEAM installation live, visit: www.nasa.gov/nasatv

For more information about BEAM, visit: www.nasa.gov/beam

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: www.nasa.gov/station

NASA Works To Improve Solar Electric Propulsion For Deep Space Exploration

RELEASE 16-044 (Click here for the full article) – 19 April 2016

sep_contract_award_pr_image_screen_shot_2014-12-12_at_3_11_53_pmNASA has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. of Redmond, Washington, to design and develop an advanced electric propulsion system that will significantly advance the nation’s commercial space capabilities, and enable deep space exploration missions, including the robotic portion of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and its Journey to Mars.

The Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) contract is a 36-month cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with a performance incentive and total value of $67 million. Work performed under the contract could potentially increase spaceflight transportation fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems.

“Through this contract, NASA will be developing advanced electric propulsion elements for initial spaceflight applications, which will pave the way for an advanced solar electric propulsion demonstration mission by the end of the decade,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “Development of this technology will advance our future in-space transportation capability for a variety of NASA deep space human and robotic exploration missions, as well as private commercial space missions.”

For more information about NASA technology, visit: www.nasa.gov/technology

NASA To Provide Coverage Of May 9 Mercury Transit Of The Sun

RELEASE M16-050 (Click here for the full article) – 3 May 2016

NASA is inviting media and viewers around the world to see a relatively rare celestial event, with coverage of the Monday, May 9 transit of the sun by the planet Mercury. Media may view the event at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Agency scientists will be available at the Goddard viewing event for live media interviews from 6 to 11:30 a.m. EDT. To attend, media must contact Michelle Handleman. To schedule an interview with a NASA scientist at the event, contact Claire Saravia.

Mercury passes between Earth and the sun only about 13 times a century, its last trek taking place in 2006. Due to its diminutive size, viewing this event safely requires a telescope or high-powered binoculars fitted with solar filters made of specially-coated glass or Mylar.

NASA is offering several avenues for the public to view the event without specialized and costly equipment, including images on NASA.gov, a one-hour NASA Television special, and social media coverage.

To view a NASA ScienceCast video on the rare opportunity the Mercury transit poses for professional astronomers and backyard sky watchers alike, go to: youtu.be/Gibaxh9x7O0

Images and animations for b-roll are available through NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio at: go.nasa.gov/1X51Duz

For fast facts about Mercury, and more information on the 2016 transit of the sun, visit: www.nasa.gov/transit

NASA To Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries During Media Teleconference

RELEASE M16-051 (Click here for the full article) – 4 May 2016

NASA is inviting media and viewers around the world to see a relatively rare celestial event, with coverage of the Monday, May 9 transit of the sun by the planet Mercury. Media may view the event at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

lithoartkepler2-fullNASA will host a news teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 10 to announce the latest discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope.

The briefing participants are:

* Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington
* Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey
* Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California
* Charlie Sobeck, Kepler/K2 mission manager at Ames

For dial-in information, media must e-mail their name, affiliation and telephone number to Felicia Chou at felicia.chou@nasa.gov no later than 11 a.m. Tuesday. Questions can be submitted on Twitter during the teleconference using the hashtag #askNASA.

The teleconference audio and visuals will be streamed live at: www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

For more information about NASA’s Kepler mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/kepler

Transit Of Mercury Session @ Baltimore Woods – Monday, May 9th, 8 a.m. To 10 a.m.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles –

There will be no next-day reschedule of this event! Our hemisphere is being treated to the third Transit of Mercury this century, and Bob Piekiel is hosting an official observing session at Baltimore Woods to mark the event and to give keen viewers a sight of our (now) smallest planet.

2016may5_mercury-transit-2016-timing

This NASA graphic depicts the time and location of Mercury as it crosses the face of the sun during the May 9, 2016 Transit of Mercury event. – From NASA

For those new to the phenomenon, a transit occurs when one small body passed in front of another larger body relative to the observer’s position. If you’ve ever been in the left lane of a three-lane highway, had a big truck in the right lane, and had a motorcycle pass in the middle lane at some blistering speed, you’ve witnessed a (kind of) transit. From our Earth-centric perspective (and sticking to one definition of a transit), transits occur when the inferior planets (which just means their between us and the Sun) Mercury or Venus pass between us and the Sun. Once we’re living on Mars, transits will occur when the inferior planets Mercury, Venus, or Earth pass between us (there) and the Sun. And you get the idea.

2016may5_orbital_angles_q4O5UNow a little math – Mercury revolves around the Sun once every 87.9 days – what we call its sidereal period. Because the Earth revolves as well, the time it takes for Mercury to hit the same basic spot between us and the Sun is 115.9 days (its synodic period). If all of the planets of the Solar System were in a perfect flat plane, that would mean we’d get a Mercury Transit every 116-ish days and the phenomenon would be a little less impressive. Because all of the planets are at slight tilts with respect to Earth’s orbit, we don’t always get clean passes – the Sun is huge overall, but still a small target at an Astronomical Unit, so the slight angles of Mercury and Venus matter when it comes to the proper lining-up needed for transits to occur.

Click the map to make directions to Baltimore Woods.

The next Mercury Transit (from an Earth viewing location, that is) won’t occur until 11 Nov 2019, then there’s a loooong wait until 13 Nov 2032. If you can get a free block in the morning, I highly encourage you to make the trip out to Baltimore Woods. The two Venus Transits I witnessed definitely “clicked” something in me about how the Solar System works (and the size of Venus against the Sun was a very impressive sight!).

The text from Bob’s official announcement is below:

Rare Transit of Mercury Across the Sun. The planet Mercury will move directly between the Earth and the Sun. Viewers with telescopes and approved solar filters will be able to observe the dark disk of the planet Mercury moving across the face of the Sun. This is an extremely rare event that occurs only once every few years. There will be one other transit of Mercury in 2019 and then the next one will not take place until 2039. (Venus will also be visible right near the sun as well).

If you can’t make it out but still want to see it, the good news is that your tax dollars are being put to good use – NASA will be live streaming the transit. For details, see www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-provide-coverage-of-may-9-mercury-transit-of-the-sun