The public is invited to witness the rare occurrence of Mercury passing in front of the Sun as seen from Earth on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, from about 2 p.m. until dusk (weather permitting) with the Astronomy Club of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
Club advisor Carsten Denker, PhD, assistant professor in the department of physics at NJIT, will have two professional telescopes available for use and viewing then. The instruments will be located on the third floor terrace of NJIT’s Campus Center. (ATTENTION EDITORS: To attend, call Sheryl Weinstein at 973-596-3436.)
“This is an exciting event because it rarely happens,” said Denker. “The next Mercury Transit will occur in 2012. Venus is the only other planet which eclipses the sun and this happens even less often. The next Venus transit won’t occur until 2117.”
To facilitate the viewing, NJIT will make two telescopes available. One instrument will be a ten-inch Meade telescope. The other will be a two-inch Coronado solar telescope.
“I like to watch the Mercury transit,” said Denker. “This is one of the few occasions where we directly can see the motions of planets around the Sun. The transit provides an ideal opportunity to explain to everyone—and especially students—the laws of gravity and Keppler's laws, which describe the orbits of planets.”
For safe viewing, Denker advises that no one ever view the Sun directly with the naked eye or with unfiltered optical devices such as binoculars or a telescope. “Severe eye damage can occur, if proper instruments are not used,” he said.
The transit will be visible from the Americas, Pacific Ocean, eastern Asia and Australia. Mercury is only 1/194 of the Sun’s diameter and will appear to be a good size dot on the sun, even when seen from a telescope. According to NASA, a telescope with magnification of 50x to 100x is recommended for watching the event. The telescope must be suitably equipped with adequate filtration to ensure safe solar viewing. The visual and photographic requirements for transit are identical to those for observing sunspots and partial solar eclipses. For more information, visit the NASA website at http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/OH/transit06.html.