Richard Harwood

Mercury Transit 2006

Mercury Transit 2006

On November 8th, 2006 one of the uncommon transits of mercury across the face of the sun occurred. During a transit, the orbit of Mercury places the planet directly between the Earth and the sun, thus it appears to move across the face of the sun. This only occurs occasionally because the plane of the orbits of the Earth and Mercury are not exactly the same. Normally Mercury appears to move either above or below the disc of the sun as it orbits the sun. When conditions are right, a transit occurs. Between the years 1900 and 2000 only 14 transits of Mercury occurred. There will also be a total of 14 transits during the 21st century. The first one occurred on May 7, 2003. The November 8th transit was only the second to occur this century. The next transit will not occur until May 9th, 2016.

The historical importance of a transit was that it helped astronomers determine the distance between the Earth and the sun, and thus allowed for the estimation of the distances to the other planets.

The November 8th transit was mostly visible from the Quad Cities Area. The transit began at 1:12 p.m. CST. By 1:15 p.m. the complete disk of Mercury was visible on the very edge of the face of the sun. The full transit took just under 5 hours. But, before Mercury had completed its transit, the sun was setting and the final stages of the transit were not visible from the Quad Cities. Viewers on the west coast of the United States were able to view the entire transit from beginning to end.

The images below were taken from the roof of Building 2 at Black Hawk College. They were taken using a Pentax *ist D digital camera in conjunction with an 8 inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Viewing conditions were ideal at throughout the afternoon. The humidity levels were relatively low, temperatures were in the low 20's Celsius (low 70's Fahrenheit), and the skies were clear which allowed us (Richard Harwood and Doug Davidson) excellent viewing. We were able to see the very beginning of the transit and much of the transit before sunset. Many students, faculty and staff were also able to enjoy the view of the transit throughout the afternoon.

Click on the image to view the full size image.

Mercury transit at 3:07 p.m.
Transit at 3:07 p.m. CST. Mercury is the small dark dot just to the left of center. The large dark spot to the left side of the face of the sun is a large sunspot. There are also two smaller, fainter sunspots on the right side.

Mercury transit composite
This is a composite image which shows Mercury in three different positions as it moved across the face the of the sun.