New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) will make available live color photos illustrating the rare Transit of Mercury. Big Bear Solar Observatory, Big Bear, Calif., managed and operated by NJIT, will begin capturing these images at 2 p.m. E.S.T. using its 6 inch (15 centimeter) Singer Full-Disk Telescope. The telescope will use a special filter to look at chromosphere, a layer in the solar atmosphere about a thousand miles above the sun’s visible surface.
Upon request, images taken by astronomers at Big Bear will be available as professional quality color images—in PNG, TIFF or JPEG formats with 300 dpi resolution and print size of 3 inches by 3 inches. (Call Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436 for more information.)
“The occurrence of Mercury passing in front of the Sun is an exciting event because it rarely happens,” said Carsten Denker, PhD, assistant professor in the department of physics at NJIT. “The next Mercury Transit will occur in 2016. Venus is the only other planet which eclipses the sun and this event happens even less often. The next Venus transits won’t occur until 2012 and 2117.”
Denker planned to watch the event today with the NJIT Astronomy Club from 2 p.m. until dusk, using a ten-inch Meade telescope and two-inch Coronado Solar Telescope. The viewing is to take place on the third floor roof of the NJIT Campus Center. Rain, however, looks as if it may cancel the event.
“The Transit of Mercury is an important event,” 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 Kepler's Laws, which describe the orbits of planets.”
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.