Transit of Mercury Inspires Community-Based Learning

Mythology and Mathematics through Stargazing

Transits of Mercury have occurred in 1999, 2003, 2006, and 2016; the next transit of Mercury visible from Earth after the 2019 event will not be until 2032.

The Transit of Mercury is an astronomical phenomenon in which Mercury comes between Earth and the Sun and can be seen as a tiny black dot moving across the sun. Johannes Kepler predicted this event before it was observed visually. That observation was recorded in 1631. Today, we generally hear about astronomical events before they happen, often camping outside at night to see rare occurrences in the sky. How do astronomers predict events like the Transit of Mercury with such accuracy? In short, advanced mathematics. Astronomers draw from concepts of Physics and use Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus to make measurements of distances between objects in the sky, and predictions of when they will appear in various ways from Earth.

You don’t need to know anything about mathematics to appreciate the beauty of the sky, however. For centuries, the sky remained a mystery to humans, and many myths emerged to explain the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Spark a sense of awe with these time-lapsed video shots by NASA from the 2016 event:

Mercury in Transit is the perfect event to engage with local resources and experts via community-based educational events …

COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENTS

Monday, November 11, 2019, 7am-1:30pm – Mercury Transit at Arunah Hill. Filtered telescopes will be set up for observing this event. Arrive anytime to glimpse Mercury silhouetted against the sun. Arunah Hill Natural Science. 413-634-0180. 218 Trouble St. Cummington, MA.

Monday, November 11, 2019, 7:30am-1pm – UMass Amherst Sunwheel Offers Rare Transit of Mercury Safe Viewing. Astronomers will be on hand to assist public viewing and explain events Weather permitting, UMass astronomers invite the public to the campus’s Sunwheel, where they plan to set up telescopes to safely observe Mercury during its transit progress between 7:36 a.m. to 1:04 p.m., while also explaining what’s happening. UMass Amherst Sunwheel. South of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, just off Rocky Hill Road, one-quarter mile west of University Drive. Amherst, MA.

Monday, November 11, 2019, 9am-1pm – Rick Costello will be in front of Mason Library with a telescope to see the “Mercury Transit” (weather permitting). Public welcome to safely view. Mason Public Library. 413-528-2403. 231 Main St, Great Barrington, MA.

Monday, November 11, 2019, 10am-1pm – Join the Springfield Stars Club and Mike Kerr, Curator of Astronomy at the Springfield Museums, to view this infrequent astronomical event! When viewed through a telescope, the small silhouette of Mercury can be seen as a tiny black dot during the transit. Members of the Springfield Stars Club will be at the Museums with their safely filtered telescopes to help visitors view this event. Visitors to the Museums will be able to look through the telescopes, speak with knowledgeable and enthusiastic club members. Free and open to the public! Note: This event will only take place if skies are clear. Please check their Facebook event to confirm that the viewing will take place. Springfield Museums. 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA.

Want to learn how to view on your own? Lucie Green describes what will happen when Mercury transits the face of the Sun, and how to observe it safely.


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