Mercury to glide across the Sun on November 11

Mercury is the smallest planet in our Solar System; compared to the Sun, the planet will look like a tiny black dot smoothly sailing past the face of our star.

Mercury will be gliding across the sun on Monday in an event called a transit. From here on Earth, that means we'll see a little black spot slowly crossing the disc of the Sun.

The transit begins at 1235 GMT and ends at 1804 GMT, when Mercury appears to enter on one edge of the Sun and exit on the other.

Since Mercury blocks out a tiny part of the light from the Sun, it should not be seen using the pinhole projectors that worked successfully in the solar eclipse in March 2015, or by using "eclipse glasses" with solar filters. Well, I'd advise against staring directly into the Sun and even more strongly against staring into the Sun through binoculars or a telescope.

Read on to learn how transits contributed to past scientific discoveries and for a look at how scientists use them today.

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The transit of Mercury will be partly or fully visible across much of the globe.

Unlike its 2016 transit, Mercury will score a near bull's-eye this time, passing practically dead center in front of our star. See the transit map below to learn when and where the transit will be visible.

Transit of Mercury occurs about 13 -15 times in a century, and will not again occur until November 2032 adding it usually happens during May and November months. Transits of Mercury and Venus enabled some of the first attempts to measure the Astronomical Unit (AU), the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Transits of Mercury are far more frequent, since the planet travels on a smaller orbit around the Sun.

Numerous thousands of exoplanets we've been finding around other stars were discovered when they transited the face of their suns, mostly by the Kepler spacecraft. But the transits of Mercury and Venus still provide scientists with opportunities for scientific investigation in two important areas: exospheres and exoplanets. Attending a viewing party at a local museum or an astronomy club event is suggested since looking directly at the sun is harmful.

During the transit, NASA will share near-real-time images of the Sun directly from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

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