Here’s how you can watch Mercury whizz past the sun

9 May 2016

Mercury is set to shift between Earth and the sun today (9 May), with many astronomy fans hoping to get a glimpse of it as it passes before our eyes.

Mercury, the headline act in the planetary mnemonic we all learned as kids, will today be the focus of an awful lot of telescopes. While staring at the sun is not to be encouraged, there is major interest in what’s happening around it this lunchtime as Mercury moves across the sun over the course of seven-and-a-half hours.

Happening around 13 times a century, the next time this transit will be visible from Earth will be 2019, before a further 13-year wait for the following event. The last time this happened was back in the pre-recession days of 2006.

Although dangerous (and impossible) to view by opening a window, sticking your head out and staring directly at the sun, there are plenty of resources online to help people watch Mercury pass by.


Map of the parts of the planet that can see Mercury transit the Sun, via Eclipsewise

Visible in its entirety from western Europe, north-western Africa and much of the Americas, most of the planet will get a glimpse of at least some of the event, which will begin shortly after 12pm (IST).

So, how can you watch the event? Your best bet is the ESA-hosted livestream, which is running throughout. The ESA is actually also running Q&As and other information programmes today surrounding Mercury.

Astronomy Ireland, for its part, is setting up some of the most powerful telescopes in Ireland to let the public view the event from 12pm to 8pm today. Meanwhile, Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory will make images from its satellite available in real time, which is quite cool.

Mercury is a fascinating planet, which we got excellent glimpses of around a year ago when NASA’s MESSENGER mission took images during its crash onto the planet’s surface.

Responsible for pretty much all of our real knowledge of the planet, MESSENGER (‘Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging’) circled Mercury for years to take photos of its surface.

However, with fuel running low last April, the doomed spacecraft spiralled down to its final resting place. These amazing pictures were what we got for all of its efforts.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Main image of the inner four planets in our solar system via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic