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 …

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Mythology and Mathematics through Stargazing 2016

Transit of Mercury Inspires Community-Based Learning

Transit of Mercury 2006

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. This event was predicted by Johannes Kepler 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 night sky remained largely a mystery to humans, and many myths emerged to explain the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Lunar and solar deities emerged in cultures across the world.

Whether you want to learn more about the mathematics of astronomy, write your own mythological explanations, or simply enjoy the beauty of the sky, you can attend various astronomy-themed events at the Springfield Museums this month. On Monday, May 9 from 10am-1pm, museum visitors can witness the first transit of Mercury since 2006. Check the Museums’ Facebook page to make sure the event is happening, as it is weather dependent. On Saturday, May 14 from 12-4pm, visitors can engage in safe sunspot viewing, and see a collection of meteorites. There will be hands-on activities for all ages, information about how craters are formed on the moon, and a space sensory bin for kids.

May 9th and 14th events are free with museum admission. Planetarium shows are $3 for adults, $2 for children ages 3-17, and free for members. 413-263-6800, ext. 318. 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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Astronomy Resources for Budding Scientists

Astronomy Resources for Budding Scientists!

Being accessible to everyone, everywhere, at all times, the sky is the ultimate community-based educational resource! Using a wealth of resources from books to apps, citizen science to local planetariums, families can explore outer space together and learn experientially about the sky above us.

Studies of outer space can be intriguing to young minds – particularly due to their mysterious nature. In plain sight all day and all night, the sky is filled with fascinating things both big and bright that are impossible to touch and nearly impossible to experience (there aren’t a lot of job openings for astronauts these days).

In order to support young Earth-bound astronomers in their pursuit of learning about all things outer space, families can utilize online resources, books, and – best of all – numerous community-based learning opportunities and resources!

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Citizen Scientists Wanted to Map the Stars

Loss of the Night Citizen Science Project Maps the Night Sky and Levels of Sky Glow

What do you see when you look into the night sky above your home? Turn informal observations of celestial bodies into citizen science with Loss of the Night! Created by German researchers, Loss of the Night is designed to collect information about the amount of sky glow (also known as light pollution) present in populated areas all over the globe. An additional goal of the project is to help users learn more about the stars that they see above them and the seasonal changes that take place in the sky.

A byproduct of densely populated areas, sky glow occurs is the obstruction of night sky views by an excess of light produced on land (by and for humans). Not only does sky glow negatively affect studies of the night sky, but researchers suspect that it may also influence species of plants and animals whose cyclical growth and change relies on their relationship to seasonal changes and, therefore, the moon and stars.

In order to participate and learn, families must download the free Loss of the Night app for Android smart phones. The program determines the phone’s GPS location, and uses the information to generate information about the stars and planets visible above that part of the earth. Read the rest of this entry »

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