Mercury completes rare celestial dance

Stargazers across the globe were in for a treat on Monday as our solar system’s smallest planet, Mercury, embarked on a rare celestial dance passing across the face of the Sun.  

Around once in over a decade, Earth and Mercury align, giving amateur and professional astronomers a tiny chance to watch Mercury as it glides between the Sun and the Earth.


A man points to where Mercury planet is on a reflection of the sun made with a telescope outside Buenos Aires’ planetarium, Argentina, May 9, 2016. (Reuters)

In pictures and footage of the event, Mercury could be seen as a tiny black blob slowly traversing our Sun’s immense disc.

“It’s all about perspective,” said NASA planetary sciences chief Jim Green.

The 7.5-hour passage, technically referred to as a “transit”, is rare because Mercury’s orbit around the sun is tilted relative to Earth’s, making the three bodies’ alignment in space uncommon.


The Mercury planetary transit in a NASA conceptual image, made of many images captured during the last Mercury transit in 2006.

The event, dangerous to watch with the naked eye, was the third of its kind this century and will not happen again until 2019 and then 2032.

The transit is a suitable time for astronomers to calibrate their space-based solar telescopes.

“When a planet crosses in front of the sun, it causes the sun’s brightness to dim. Scientists can measure similar brightness dips from other stars to find planets orbiting them,” said NASA.

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