Today’s #MercuryTransit in full from our Solar Dynamics Observatory: For more than seven hours today, Mercury was visible as a tiny black dot crossing the face of the sun. This rare event – which happens only slightly more than once a decade – is called a transit.
The 2016 Mercury transit occurred on May 9th, between about 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT.
Transits provide a great opportunity to study the way planets and stars move in space– information that has been used throughout the ages to better understand the solar system and which still helps scientists today calibrate their instruments.
Although Mercury whips around the sun every 88 days – over four times faster than Earth – the three bodies rarely align. Because Mercury orbits in a plane 7 degrees tilted from Earth’s orbit, it usually darts above or below our line of sight to the sun. As a result, a Mercury transit happens only about 13 times a century. The last one was in 2006, and the next one isn’t until 2019.
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