a rare event not to be missed!


This is the astronomical spectacle of the end of the year not to be missed: Monday, November 11, Mercury, the smallest planet of the Solar System will pass in front of the Sun. Here is all you need to know to follow the event in its entirety and safely in metropolitan France and elsewhere in the world!

It is a remarkable event that takes place only thirteen times a century. Most little planet of our Solar system, Mercury, will pass in front of the gigantic solar disk, on November 11th, from 13:35 (Paris time). The last passage of Mercury happened in 2016 and the next is planned for November 2032. So it is a rare astronomical sight, not to be missed.

The transit of Mercury can be observed in much of the world. However, Central and Eastern Asia, as well as Japan, Indonesia and Australia will be deprived. It is South America that is best situated to enjoy the celestial spectacle, with the West Indies and eastern North America, as well as a small part of Greenland and West Africa . Under our latitudes, the transit will not be visible in full because thestar solar will fold before the little rocky planet do not finish his journey.

The transit of Mercury minute by minute

Mercury will make its appearance in Chinese shadow at the edge of our star at 13:35 (Paris time), not far from ecliptic plane (see diagram below). At 1337, the small dark ball is fully visible inside the solar disk. It will take five hours and 28 minutes for Mercury to complete its entire transit. At 4:19 pm, the center of the planet will be closer to the center of the SunIt is therefore the best time to admire it until the sunset of the day, at 5 pm for the inhabitants of eastern France. In addition to the Atlantic, the planet will leave the solar disk shortly after 19 hours. Depending on your position in metropolitan France, the hours may vary (see the IMCCE table below). An animation, available here, recapitulates all the stages of the transit of Mercury as we can observe it from the Parisian latitudes.

Where and how to observe the transit of Mercury safely?

The observation of the Sun is not without danger. Indeed, watch it directly at theeye naked or through an optical instrument can cause damage eye irreversible and painless. To protect yourself, you must absolutely wear glasses for eclipse. However, it should be noted that because of its small size, Mercury will not be visible in front of our star – very luminous – with simple eclipse glasses.

It's through binoculars or a telescope imperatively provided with approved solar filters in front of the eyepieces that you will be able to admire the silhouette of the small planet in front of the Sun. And if you do not have adapted filters, nothing is lost, on the contrary: you can contemplate safely transit via the projection of the Sun on a screen or a sheet of paper, as in the diagram below.

Finally, if you are not equipped with an observation device protected by a filter, the safest way is to get closer to the associations of amateur astronomers who for the occasion will open their doors to the public. A map The various events are available on the AFA website, the French Association of Astronomy.

And if you do not want to move or that the weather is not lenient in your area, it is possible to follow the event on Internet (see Live links below). Good observation to all!

The transit of Mercury in 2016

Article of Xavier Demeersman published on May 9, 2016

From 13:12 to 20:40 (in metropolitan France time), Mercury will appear in front of the Sun, during a passage that will last 7 hours. It will be necessary to observe this transit in Metropolis, where the weather will offer only thinning. To enjoy it, the little planet is only a tiny black dot on the solar disk, so you have to take precautions. The ideal is to confide in amateur astronomers, mobilized for the occasion. Today, there will be telescopes at the edge of roads, on the market square or on shopping center parking lots …

This Monday, May 9, 2016, number of Terrans (including the eastern half of North America, Cuba, Jamaica, much of South America, a fringe of West Africa and the whole party West of Europe, including Metropolitan France, see the map below) will be able to observe – provided they have adequate equipment – the transit of Mercury in front of the Sun. The term transit means the passage of the star in front of our star from the point of view of the Earth, third planet of the Solar System. only Venus and Mercury can be seen this way, but it does not happen as often as one might think: for the latter, 14 times in this century.

With a revolution of a little less than three months (87.97 days to be precise), the planet closest to the Sun could be surprised passing in front of the solar disk every 116 days on average, notwithstanding its orbit elliptical and inclined by 7 ° with respect to that of the Earth, the ecliptic. In reality, when aligned with the Sun and the Earth (conjunction lower), it is always a little above or a little below the solar star. This has only happened twice since the beginning of the 21st centurye century it passes right before: May 7, 2003 and November 8, 2006 (this last transit was invisible in metropolitan France).

Where, when, how to observe it?

The transit will be visible from beginning to end almost everywhere in France with the exception of a small portion of the Côte d'Azur where the Sun will be going to bed at the end of the event. The smallest planet in the Solar System will take its time to cross the entire solar disk from one side to the other.

This will happen for almost seven-and-a-half hours, from first to last contact. While this leaves a comfortable time to follow it but the best moments are undoubtedly when the little dark point begins to pierce the edge of our star (the first contact will be at 13:12, Paris time) and, some moments later, when it is all against the internal edge (second contact), then vice versa, third and fourth contacts when it leaves at 20:40 (calculate the times for your locality with the dedicated website of the IMCCE).

The real trajectory of Mercury in front of the Sun, during its transit of May 9th. View from the Earth, without mechanism that compensates the rotation of our planet, the trajectory appears different (see the video simulation created by the Observatoire de Paris and IMCCE). © Nasa

Amateur astronomers will share this event

Of course, to observe our star, you need an instrument, telescope or telescope, equipped with solar filters. It can also be observed indirectly, by projection. Mercury, 158 times smaller than the Sun, will appear as a tiny black dot. It should be enlarged at least 50 times to distinguish it in front of the star of the day. With magnifications of 100 to 200 times, it will be much better.

During transit, it is possible that the silhouette of the planet in front of the photosphere of the Sun crosses one or more archipelagos of sunspots, nevertheless they are not very numerous at the moment (on April 17, there was still a large active region with a remarkable eruption), the solar activity is rather decreasing lately, but that does not forbid nice surprises. On the sky side in Metropolis, Meteo France announces a very cloudy weather, with, everywhere, "Rare showers". There will be, among them, some thinning … On a duration more than seven hours, there should be good times. In case of complete failure, it will suffice to wait. The next appointment will be on November 11, 2019 (see dates on NASA website).

If curiosity for this event devours you but you have no instruments, get closer to an amateur astronomy club. Many of them are mobilizing to organize public observations. It will also be possible to watch his retransmission on the Internet via theObservatory of Paris or the Nasa.

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Mercury, the world of extremes Near the Sun, Mercury lives a hell, cooked at 400 ° C where the light shines, but cooled to -150 ° C on the other side. Difficult to reach (because it goes fast), it was overflown by waves, especially Messenger (Nasa), in orbit from 2011 to 2015. The craft made it possible to understand a chaotic relief, at the antipodes of a giant crater, Caloris: the impact was so strong that it rocked and crackled the little planet. This video shows a reconstruction. Since then, Mercury has calmed down and stalled its rotation on its orbit around the Sun.

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