Mercury’s transit visible this Monday

Local skygazers will have a chance this Monday to observe Mercury make its way across the face of the sun.

Tiyen Miller, vice president of the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society, said the transit of Mercury happens when the planet is lined up exactly in between the sun and the Earth.

“It’s very special, as it only happens a few times a century, and at that, only part of the Earth will be facing the sun each time it happens,” Miller said. “The next transit of Mercury will be in 2032, and the next one visible from the Cayman Islands isn’t until 2049.”

The astronomical group will have equipment in place near the Camana Bay Cinema from 11am to 1pm on Remembrance Day, Monday, to enable people to watch the planet as it appears in front of the sun.

“We’ll have a projection of the sun’s image set up so everyone can safely watch this rare phenomenon. The planet itself will look quite small, as a tiny dot. However, an interesting approach would be to visit and then come back in an hour or so to see how the planet has moved,” Miller said.

He also cautioned that directly viewing the transit with the naked eye is very dangerous.
“It is likely to cause permanent damage to one’s vision,” he said.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), transits “are very rare astronomical events”.

NASA explained on its website: “In the case of Mercury, there are on average 13 transits each century. A transit of Mercury occurs only if the planet is in inferior conjunction with the Sun (between Earth and Sun) and is also crossing the through Earth’s orbital plane (the Ecliptic).”

Miller said this time, the Cayman Islands have perfect conditions to observe the whole transit of Mercury, “From when the planet first touches the disc of the sun’s image at 7:35 in the morning until it passes off the opposite side of the sun’s disc at 1:05 in the afternoon.”