A multiple-exposure image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows Mercury’s track across the sun’s disk in 2016. (NASA / GSFC / SDO Image / Genna Duberstein)
The planets will be aligned on Monday for a rare astronomical event known as the transit of Mercury, and skywatching fans are sure to see it even if the skies are cloudy, thanks to this little thing called the internet.
For folks in Western Washington, watching the action online will be the best bet when the tiny black dot of Mercury’s disk crosses the sun. Mercury will make its first contact at 4:35 a.m. PT, when the skies will still be dark in Seattle. It’ll be another two and a half hours before the sun creeps over the Cascades. By that time, the transit will be almost half-done.
Even then, the weather forecast calls for clouds that could well obscure the view for the rest of the transit, which ends at 10:04 a.m. PT.
Clouds won’t be a problem for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, however. From its vantage point in space, SDO will beam back high-resolution, multi-wavelength views of the sun with Mercury’s speck, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will be posting them online.
Here on Earth, several video streams will be running, courtesy of the Slooh online observatory, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, TimeAndDate.com and the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0.
If the heavens part, there are ways to watch the transit happen in the sky, but one sure way not to do it is to try looking directly at the sun with your unprotected eyes. That can do serious eye damage. Mercury’s speck is so small, and the atmospheric conditions are likely to be so dicey, that it’s hardly worth making the attempt even if you’re using the solar-filter glasses you saved …read more