Planet Mercury will pass directly between Earth and the Sun on November 11, staging a rare celestial show. During the transit, Mercury will look like a tiny black dot gliding across the Sun's face, NASA said in a blog this week, adding that the event will be widely visible from most of Earth, including the Americas, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, New Zealand, Europe, Africa, and western Asia.
Mercury's transit only happens about 13 times a century. Its last transit was in 2016 and the next won't happen until 2032. "Viewing transits and eclipses provide opportunities to engage the public, to encourage one and all to experience the wonders of the universe and to appreciate how precisely science and mathematics can predict celestial events," said Mitzi Adams from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Slated to start at about 6.35 a.m. Central Standard Time (CST), this transit will last almost six hours. People will need the magnification of a telescope (minimum of 50x) with a solar filter to view the transit.
"Never look at the Sun directly or through a telescope without proper protection. It can lead to serious and permanent vision damage. Always use a safe Sun filter to protect your eyes," NASA said.
Scientists have been using transits for hundreds of years to study the way planets and stars move in space. Edmund Halley used a transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769 to determine the absolute distance to the Sun.