How to view the upcoming Mercury transit

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Surface of Mercury as imaged by the MESSENGER spacecraft in 2013(Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

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On Monday the 9th of May, the planet Mercury will make a rare transit of our Sun. The event is a precious opportunity to observe firsthand the ordinarily hidden celestial mechanics that govern our solar system. A tortured ball of rock less than half the size of Earth, Mercury represents the innermost planet in our Solar System, orbiting a mere 36 million miles from our Sun.

Mercury is set in a tilted orbital plane compared to our own, which stands as the root cause for the rarity of the planetary transfer that is known to occur 13 to 14 times each century, usually during the months of May or November. The last Mercury transit took place in 2006, and following next week's event, the innermost planet in our solar system will not grace the fiery disk of our star until 2019.

It is possible to observe the transit yourself with a powerful enough telescope or even binoculars but (for the love of god) be sure to equip a good solar filter. Whatever you do, do not stare at the Sun with the naked eye. Mercury is only expected to block 1/25000th of the Sun's light, so you're not going to see anything, and you will likely be left with permanent damage to your retinas as a constant reminder of your brief moment of stupidity.

Image of the Sun captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in 2013(Credit: NASA/SDO)

The eclipse will be observable from the entirety of the United States as well as parts of Europe, Africa and most of Asia. Mercury's transit is not going to be a brief, lunar eclipse-like event. Starting at 7:12 a.m. EDT, the tiny planet will take roughly seven and a half hours to plod its way across the face of our neighborhood star, finally escaping the edge of the Sun's disk at 2:42 p.m. EDT.

A list of precise contact sites over 150 plus cities across America and Canada can be found on the Eclipse Wise website.

Lacking a telescope or clear skies, you can always watch the cosmic ballet from the comfort of your home via the Slooh website. During the transit, Slooh will be streaming a live feed of footage from partners around the globe, paired with expert analysis and commentary.

Three satellites, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, the Hinode solar mission and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be imaging the event from orbit. Be sure to visit the NASA website during the transit for a stream of stunning near-live images.

Scroll down to observe a 10-second clip of Mercury's 2006 transit, constructed from images captured by the ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory

Source: NASA

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