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Mercury Transit 2019: What You Need To Know To See It

This image of Mercury passing in front of the sun was captured on Nov. 8, 2006 by the Solar Optical Telescope, one of three primary instruments on the Hinode spacecraft.
This image of Mercury passing in front of the sun was captured on Nov. 8, 2006 by the Solar Optical Telescope, one of three primary instruments on the Hinode spacecraft. Image credit: Hinode JAXA/NASA/PPARC

Our solar system's smallest planet will pass between the Earth and the Sun on Monday in a rare astronomical event known as a "transit" of Mercury.

It's possible to view the event, but people need to be careful.


It will take Mercury about five-and-a-half hours to cross the Sun. It will appear around 7:30 a.m. EST and finish around 1:00 p.m. EST. Viewers on the East Coast of the United States can experience the entire transit as the Sun will already have risen, while West Coast viewers will see it in-progress. 

Padi Boyd, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the only way to safely view the event is with special solar filters.

"I cannot reiterate enough that it is never a good idea to look at the Sun with your naked eye, so do not do that if you're trying to look at the transit of Mercury,” she said.

Composite image of Mercury’s journey across the sun on May 9, 2016. NASA'S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER/SDO/GENNA DUBERSTEIN

Some may wonder if the solar glasses used by many during the last total solar eclipse will suffice.

Boyd said people could try, but Mercury is such a small planet that it would be difficult to spot the miniscule black dot crossing the Sun. And what's really not safe, she warned, is using binoculars or a telescope with the solar glasses. That can severely damage eyes.

“So if you want to see a magnified image of the transit, your best bet is on the Internet or going to a science museum or an astronomy club where there will be professional astronomers with the proper lenses and filters to show you what you want to see.”

Boyd said Mercury transits occur about 13 times a century. The last time Mercury transited the Sun was May 2016, but it won't happen again until 2032, with the next visible in North America in 2049.

Boyd said transits of planets like Mercury and Venus have helped scientists for hundreds of years get a better sense of the scale of our solar system. She said modern scientists use the same theories to understand the size of planets orbiting other solar systems.

Watch the Mercury transit online

NASA is one of several organizations posting a near-live feed of the transit online.

Click here to watch transit movies NASA will share from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on Monday.

Here are some places around the Tampa Bay area hosting viewing events:

St. Petersburg College: Public telescope viewing will be available (weather permitting) outside the Natural Science building on the St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus, on 69th St. at 5th Ave. N. St. Petersburg, 33710. Visitors can stop by anytime between 8:00 am and 1:00 pm. Several telescopes will be available to safely view the event.

Museum of Science and Industry: MOSI visitors can use the museum's telescopes to view the event between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. Included with price of admission. 4801 E. Fowler Ave. Tampa, Florida 33617.

Bok Tower Gardens: Join astronomers on the Oval Lawn to view the event between 8:00 am and 1:00 pm. Included with general admission or membership. 1151 Tower Blvd. Lake Wales, Florida 33853.

James and Barbara Moore Observatory: The observatory will have four telescopes and four pairs of binoculars with proper solar filters available for safe viewing of the event. Visitors can view the transit between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the observatory, located on the Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) Charlotte Campus, 26300 Airport Road, Punta Gorda. The event is free and open to the public.

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