Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

UAE stargazers to witness rare cosmic event as Mercury travels across the Sun

The Mercury transit will be visible for about 45 minutes in this region on Monday

A woman views the Mercury transit during an event hosted by the UAE Space Agency in Abu Dhabi in May, 2016. Reem Mohammed/ The National
A woman views the Mercury transit during an event hosted by the UAE Space Agency in Abu Dhabi in May, 2016. Reem Mohammed/ The National

UAE stargazers will witness the planet Mercury drift across the face of the Sun on Monday during a rare cosmic event.

During the transit – which will last for about five-and-a-half hours – the diminutive planet will only be visible on telescope, appearing as a small black dot within the disc of the Sun.

In the UAE, the celestial occurrence will be visible for about 45 minutes from 4.30pm onwards.

Nasa described it as a “rare cosmic event” since such a transit, when Mercury lines up between the Sun and the Earth, takes place about 13 times a century.

Although the last transit was in 2016, the next is not due to take place until 2032.

While it takes Mercury about 88 days to circle the Sun, its orbit is tilted, making it rare for the Sun, Mercury and the Earth to line up perfectly, Nasa said.

Hasan Al Hariri, founder and chief executive of Dubai Astronomy Group, invited enthusiasts to watch the event using telescopes fitted with filters at Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre at Mushrif Park.

The observation programme will begin at 4pm, accompanied with a detailed explanation of the phenomenon that will also be broadcast across a large screen.

A composite image released by Nasa shows the planet Mercury passing directly between the Sun and the Earth in May 2016. AP    
A composite image released by Nasa shows the planet Mercury passing directly between the Sun and the Earth in May 2016. AP    

“We are emphasising that people should not look at the Sun because it is harmful to the eyes,” Mr Al Hariri said.

“This event requires a telescope since Mercury is very small. The event will start in our region but at that time the Sun will be in the process of setting here in the UAE. The Sun will set when the event is still in progress.”

The longest viewing duration would be in the UK and the Americas.

Mr Hariri said the transit opened up learning opportunities about the planetary system.

“This is like an eclipse, but for the planets,” he said.

“People don’t usually get a chance to see Mercury because it’s so close to the Sun. This is the best chance to observe and get more information about the planet. People automatically assume Mercury is the hottest planet but that is actually Venus.

“Observing this can ignite the passion in children to explore the universe so they can get hooked on [to] and love astronomy.”

Updated: November 11, 2019 06:32 PM

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