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The Transit of Mercury of 2019

Stay here, quivering with each moment like a drop of Mercury.

⎯⎯ Rumi (from the poem The Waterwheel)

Photo credit: Sharon Reed

Who am I?

  • I am really fast.

  • I drive people crazy because I seem to go back and forth.

  • The Greeks call me Hermes.

  • Sometimes I am close, sometimes I am far from the center.

  • I am really really hot and also really really cold.

This is who I am: ☿

  • My orbital speed is 100 thousand miles per hour on average. (I am really fast).

  • I appear to have a retrograde motion depending on where Earth is on its orbit around the Sun (I drive people crazy).

  • The Greeks call me Hermes (The Romans call me Mercury).

  • I have the highest eccentric orbit (0.21 eccentricity) of all planets: 29 million miles at closest (Perihelion) and 43 million miles at farthest (Aphelion).

  • 800 F during day and -200 F during night. (I am really hot and really cold).

Transits of Mercury are rare. The next Transit of Mercury will happen in 2032 and I didn't want to wait 13 years in case of bad weather in New York so I decided to fly to Florida (The weather was eventually clear in New York). I set up in Shepard Park, Cocoa Beach, with clear sight of the morning Sun and the SpaceX Starlink launch, scheduled for that morning at 9:51 am. Shepard Park is named after astronaut Alan Shepard, first American in space as part of the Mercury Seven. Sometimes, the Universe provides synchronicity effortlessly for your life.

Photo credit: Sharon Reed

A transit is defined when a small celestial body (Mercury) moves in front of a bigger one (Sun) and blocks a small portion of that as seen from a third body (Earth). Here are the astronomical details for the transit as provided by Fred Espenak:

Source: Fred Espena.

I was ready with an Explore Scientific FirstLight telescope and my Sony A7RII with a telephoto lens and solar filter to capture images of the transit. You might remember that I missed taking a picture of totality during the total solar eclipse of July 2019 when I forgot to take off the solar filter. I am glad I don't have to worry about the filter this time.

Sidewalk Astronomy and talking about celestial and astronomical events has become a favorite activity of mine. I like to share my passion for and connection with the cosmos. I once read that studying astronomy is a humbling experience. It certainly has been for me.

Photo credit: Sharon Reed

Sidewalks present a great canvass on which you can draw simple diagrams and perform calculations. Magic is science when you look behind the curtain of appearances. People like to blame "Mercury in retrograde" for breakups, car accidents, wrong coffee orders, false couch deliveries, pets running away, and volatile stock market movements. When I asked the concierge at my hotel where I could set up my telescope for the transit of Mercury, he exclaimed: "I love astrology!" A simple sketch uncovers the misbelief.

I saw the tiny little speck that is Mercury at second contact around 7:37 am (when he touches the inside of the Sun's disk), and I was genuinely excited. Observing another planet in these circumstances makes me feel alive and connected. Mercury, after all, formed around the same time Earth did from the protoplanetary disk. Over the course of five hours of the transit, a number of people showed up, some of which knew about the transit and some of which didn't but all had one thing in common: they were captivated by what they saw.

Photo credit: Sharon Reed

As demonstrative tools I used and orange (native fruit of Florida) and a grain of sand (also native to Florida). I calculated that if the Sun is the size of an orange, Mercury is a grain of sand and roughly 10 feet away. The vastness of space is barely comprehensible. People like visuals. In this size constellation, the next star, Alpha Centauri, is close to New Orleans and maybe the size of a grapefruit. Let that sink in.

In the midst of it all, SpaceX dared to distract from the transit by launching one of their Starlink missions, which is causing problems for astronomers during their nighttime observations. Despite the many benefits of the Internet, global satellite Internet and constant connectivity comes at a price that ruins the night sky due to the large amounts of satellites.

Then the clouds moved in, and the Sun became obscured. After another hour the clouds parted and I captured the following shot of the transit (cropped):

After the end of the transit, the clouds moved in, and it started to rain as if the heavens were gushing tears of joy of having witnessed the transit and sadness of needing to wait 13 years for the next one.

The Winged Planet

Swiftly streaks across the Sun

Mercurial my heart. ⎯⎯ Astrogerm

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