Monday, May 9, 2016
Heads Up! Mercury enters spotlight on May 9
It happens only a little more than once a decade – and the next chance to see it is Monday, May 9. Throughout the U.S., sky watchers can watch Mercury pass between Earth and the sun in a rare astronomical event known as a planetary transit. Mercury will appear as a tiny black dot as it glides in front of the sun’s blazing disk over a period of seven and a half hours. Three NASA satellites will be providing images of the transit and one of them will have a near-live feed.
Although Mercury zooms around the sun every 88 days, Earth, the sun and Mercury rarely align. And because Mercury orbits in a plane that is tilted from Earth’s orbit, it usually moves above or below our line of sight to the sun. As a result, Mercury transits occur only about 13 times a century.
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. Three of NASA's solar telescopes will watch the transit for just that reason.
Source & further reading:http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/satellites-to-see-mercury-enter-spotlight-on-may-9