Hot Shots of Mercury
May 6, 2003 5:31 PM   Subscribe

The transit of Mercury. About thirteen times a century, the orbits of Earth and Mercury align in such a way that Mercury can be observed passing across the disk of the sun. The next transit is from 0740 to 1317 GMT, May 7th, and will be webcast from NASA's orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Hot Shots page. NASA also has a piece on the seventeenth century mathematician and astronomerJohannes Kepler, who predicted (but died before observing) transits of Mercury and Venus.More info on space. com, including a viewer's guide and a history of previous observations.
posted by carter (17 comments total)
My first FPP ... yikes!
posted by carter at 5:32 PM on May 6, 2003

And a good one at that, carter, thanks. I've always been fascinated by anything that gives a sense of scale to the solar system, as that first picture of the simulated transit from your first link does. (And on a slightly related note, the Astronomy Picture of the Day site has been posting some really spectacular images lately, as in here, here and here.)
posted by Zonker at 5:48 PM on May 6, 2003

Righteous FPP.
posted by MidasMulligan at 5:53 PM on May 6, 2003

That SOHO gallery is FILLED with mpeg movies -- solar flares, comet transits. Very cool, carter.
posted by eddydamascene at 6:05 PM on May 6, 2003

Yes, righteous indeed. Thanks carter!
posted by plep at 12:23 AM on May 7, 2003

Thanks for the timely tip-off about this event, carter. It's very much a Total Perspective Vortex experience, watching that impossibly miniscule black speck of a planet make its way across the face of a star.
posted by Fourmyle at 12:25 AM on May 7, 2003

1999 Transit of Mercury Gallery. Courtesy of the Exploratorium.
posted by plep at 1:01 AM on May 7, 2003

Thanks for the great FPP, carter! I've been waiting for SOHO images of the current transit.
posted by Songdog at 5:50 AM on May 7, 2003

Thanks, y'all, and thanks for the link, Plep; the movies on that page are great. I agree, Zonker, actually watching the solar system at work is fun (I like lunar eclipses - you can see the earth's round shadow creeping across the moon's surface, and picture how they move about each other). FYI, next year's transit of Venus (June 2004) will be the first since 1882; so we can see something no-one alive has ever seen. Googling around, there's some interesting stories of Victorian explorers who journeyed around the world in the 1800s to try and observe it.
posted by carter at 7:39 AM on May 7, 2003

Not to mention Captain Cook, whose first Pacific voyage in the late 1760s included a stop at Tahiti to watch the transit of 1769.

By the way, the SOHO server is pretty slow right now, so I grabbed a favorite shot and posted it at my site. If you've got the patience and bandwidth, though, do check out the SOHO movies, which are amazing.

posted by Songdog at 10:00 AM on May 7, 2003

Sorry - I had polite self-link warnings in that post, but they vanished after a successful preview.
posted by Songdog at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2003

Some drawings from Cook's voyage and observations of the transit of Venus.
posted by plep at 10:58 AM on May 7, 2003

Thanks for the pic, Songdog!
posted by plep at 11:00 AM on May 7, 2003

Two other sites I came across on the transit of Venus are Willie Koort's linkalicious account of
observations by astronomers in 1882 from Wellington, South Africa
, and that of author David Sellers. Wandering off-topic, Tom Standage has a great book (which I've just read) on the efforts of nineteenth century astronomers to locate the planet Neptune, based on observations of anomalies in the orbit of Uranus. Even further off-topic, Standage also wrote a great book on nineteenth century telegraph technology called "The Victorian Internet."
posted by carter at 12:07 PM on May 7, 2003

P.S. - Yup the server was getting slow - but I was up at 0200 MST and was able to grab some images. I compiled a few of those into a jpeg here. Mercury is quite visible in nthe upper half of then pictures. I guess this is also a kind of self-link - but not a site or blog, just a place to park a jpeg on the server for a couple of days ...
posted by carter at 12:45 PM on May 7, 2003

One of my favorite stories about transits, in this case of Venus:

Probably the most heartbreaking story is that of the Frenchman Le Gentil (1725-1792), who planned to observe the 1761 transit [of Venus] from Pondicherry, in India. Unfortunately, before he could arrive, Pondicherry was taken by the British, who of course had no desire to welcome Le Gentil. So the ship turned around and the hapless astronomer was reduced to observing the transit from the boat, where accurate timing was impossible. He decided to stop in Mauritius and stay for the eight years before the next transit, spending the time observing the local flora and fauna. He set up to observe the 1769 transit from Pondicherry again, where the British were now directed to aid him, but on the fateful day, a single cloud hid the event from his eyes.
posted by Xoc at 3:22 PM on May 7, 2003

carter- that's a really nice group of images; thanks for sharing it!
posted by Songdog at 7:42 PM on May 7, 2003

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