Hi Nick here,
On May 9th 2016, an event which only happens around 13-14 times every 100 years will occur, when the nearest planet to our Sun, Mercury, passes in front of it as seen from the Earth.
The UK, most of mainland Europe and North America will be in a prime slot to see most if not all of this wonderful event as it transpires over the course of several hours Mercury Transits, due to the orbital alignments of Earth, the Sun and the tiny planet itself. It occurs in May and November, and have even been witnessed from the surface of Mars by the Curiosity Rover whilst not the scientific phenomena it once was, and not as rare as the Venus transits, which only occur twice in every 105-121 years or so (the last being in 2012), observing this safely is something quite remarkable.
What’s wonderful in this modern era, is that you can even listen to it, with online live broadcasts from organisations such as SLOOH giving hours of live commentary of the event, describing everything from first contact, through to egress from the solar surface Mercury itself is the smallest planet in the Solar System (after the demise of Pluto to Dwarf Planet status), being only a little bigger than our own Moon, and smaller than some of the Moons orbiting Jupiter. It is 18 times smaller in terms of mass than our own planet, and is a pretty much atmosphere devoid (miniscule) world that takes only 88 days to orbit the Sun, at a distance of around 57 million km.
Despite its proximity to the Sun, it’s not the hottest planet in the Solar System. That accolade goes to Venus with its dense atmosphere that, on the surface is hot enough to melt lead, and dense enough to crush a spacecraft. It is covered in craters, and has had several spacecraft visit it, both in flyby and more recently with the MESSENGER mission, in orbit, making highly detailed maps of the surface. The transit this time will also be visible from the ISS, with our own Major Tim Peake aboard.. Though the planet itself will appear as just a tiny dot against the solar surface, one can hope, that as in the days of the amazing Skylab mission, which did such incredible science observing the Sun, that some of the astronauts on the ISS may take a little time to appreciate this rare event and share their feelings on our place in the Universe with all of us here on Earth.
Nick is a guest blogger, friend and supporter of Living Paintings.
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