Dubai - Parties organised in various parts of UAE to observe over seven-hour celestial treat
Sky watchers across the world will have a rare treat as the first planet in our solar system, Mercury, will be making its first visible solar transit in a decade on Monday.
Ibrahim Al Jarwan, astronomy and meteorology researcher and general supervisor at the Sharjah Planetarium, said UAE residents will witness the transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun starting at 3.12pm.
'The seven-and-a-half hour transit commences on Monday at 11.12UT (universal time) and ends later that same day at 18.42UT, with mid-transit taking place at 14.57UT. During a transit, Mercury is seen as a tiny black dot,'' said Al Jarwan.
He emphasised that the safest way to observe a transit of Mercury is through a telescope or a pair of binoculars to protect the eyes.
According to a report by The Christian Science Monitor, both professional astronomers and hobbyists can view the transit between 7.12pm and 2.42pm Eastern time on Monday.
"Astronomers get excited when any two things come close to each other in the heavens. "This is a big deal for us," said Louis Mayo of Nasa's (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Goddard Space Centre.
But some parts of the world won't be so lucky on Monday, as sky watchers in Eastern Asia, Oceania and Antarctica will be unable to see the transit. Viewers in the Western United States and Eastern Africa will only be able to see part of the event.
Solar transits are unusual, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Although Mercury orbits the sun every 88 days, the planets rarely align so perfectly that viewers on Earth can observe the spectacle. The first Mercury transit was observed in 1631 by astronomers with low-powered telescopes. Today, astronomers say that it is much easier to observe and record solar transits. "It used to be hard to observe transits," said Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) project scientist Joseph Gurman. "If you were in a place that had bad weather, for example, you missed your chance and had to wait for the next one. These instruments help us make our observations, despite any earthly obstacles."
Visible transits typically take place in May and November, and on average occur around thirteen times per century. The last time this happened was in 2006 and the next two are slated to occur in 2019 and 2032. Mercury's cross-solar passage is not just intriguing for viewers, however, but also for scientists who rely on the data gathered during solar transits. Scientists say that these measurements can help them better understand not only Mercury, but the sun. In particular, the data gathered on Monday will help scientists determine the solar rotation axis and study changes in the sun over time. Mercury's transit will also help scientists calibrate and study the impact of the sun's scattered rays on their astronomical instruments.
"It's like getting a cataract - you see stars or halos around bright lights as though you are looking through a misty windshield," said Solar Dynamics Observatory project scientist Dean Pesnell. "We have the same problem with our instruments."
Mercury's diameter is only 1/158th of that of the sun, as seen from Earth. Eclipse master Fred Espenak recommends using a telescope with a magnification of 50 to 100 times for witnessing the event.
Plus your telescope must be equipped with a safe solar filter to safely watch this transit, or else you risk permanent eye damage. Or alternatively, you can view it online at www.virtualtelescope.eu/webtv/
Who will see the transit of Mercury?
As shown on the worldwide chart below, the transit will be visible (at least in part) from most of the globe, with the exception of shaded-out portion (Indonesia, far-eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand). Mercury takes some 7.5 hours to cross the sun's disk, and this transit of Mercury is entirely visible (given clear skies) from the eastern half of North America, most of South America, Greenland, Iceland, far-western Africa, western and northern Europe, plus the Arctic.
For North America, the transit begins in the early morning hours on May 9. The eastern part of North America sees the start of the transit after sunrise May 9, whereas the western part sees the transit already in progress as the sun rises on May 9.
As for the world's Eastern Hemisphere - Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia - the transit starts around noon May 9 in the westernmost parts of Africa and Europe, and in the late afternoon May 9 in eastern Asia (China, Mongolia, Thailand). In western Asia and eastern Africa, the transit begins around mid-afternoon May 9.
Where to watch in the UAE?
Several viewing parties will be set up across the UAE.
In Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Astronomical Society will pitch a big tent, complete with large telescopes, near Marina Mall from 3pm onwards.
Contact EAS at 02-6663318.
In Dubai, the Dubai Astronomy Group will organise an observation event with telescopes and gears at Mushrif Park from 2pm until sunset. For more information and to register, email email@example.com or visit www.dubaiastronomy.com.
In Sharjah, the Sharjah Planetarium will be hosting visitors from 4.30pm until sunset, and will be providing equipment to watch the Mercury transit. For more details, call 06-5166000 or visit www.scass.ae
Alternatively, visit www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/eclipse as Nasa will post a feed of images from the transit as it occurs across the globe.
Next dates for transits of Mercury
All Mercury transits happen in either May (descending node) or November (ascending node).
> Nov 11, 2019
> Nov 13, 2032
> Nov 7, 2039
> May 7, 2049
> Nov 9, 2052
> May 10, 2062
> Nov 11, 2065
> Nov 14, 2078
> Nov 7, 2085
> May 8, 2095
> Nov 10, 2098
November (ascending node) transits happen about twice as often as May (descending node) transits. This is because Mercury has a very eccentric (oblong) orbit whereby Mercury comes a whopping 24 million kilometers (15 million miles) closer to the sun at perihelion (closest point to the sun in its orbit) than at aphelion (farthest point). In May, Mercury is rather close to aphelion, and quite far from the sun, which severely narrows the window of opportunity for a May transit. In November, Mercury swings rather near perihelion, and quite close to the sun, widening the period of time during which a November transit is possible.