NOAO >  News Releases

Small NOAO Logo

Images

With links to a larger version.

The National Science Foundation’s Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Exploratorium are joining forces to present a live view of an unusual celestial event: the transit of planet Mercury across the face of the Sun, as seen from Earth.

This five-hour transit occurs on Wednesday, November 8, 2006, beginning at 12:12 p.m. local MST in Tucson, Arizona (11:12 a.m. PST) and ending at 5:10 p.m MST (4:10 p.m. PST).

The coverage from Kitt Peak, broadcast on the Web by a mobile multimedia team from the Exploratorium, will include a live image of the transit as seen through a white-light filter on a Meade 16-inch telescope operated by the national observatory for public outreach, plus live voiceover commentary at the top of every hour and interviews with astronomers on Kitt Peak.

For more information and to watch the event live, go to:
http://www.exploratorium.edu/transit

Interviewees from Kitt Peak will include scientist Andrew Potter of the National Solar Observatory, who will be using the transit to make special observations of Mercury’s thin atmosphere as seen against the known background composition of the Sun, using the world’s largest solar telescope, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.

“This interesting event reminds us that we live in a vast three-dimensional universe with two planets, Mercury and Venus, that orbit the Sun inside Earth’s orbit,” says Mark Giampapa, deputy director of the National Solar Observatory, which operates the McMath-Pierce 1.6-meter telescope for the National Science Foundation.

Extensive information on the transit and the time of “contact events” within it is available from NASA.

A sample of what the transit will look like can be seen in this image from the NOAO Image Gallery.

The last Mercury transit occurred in 2003. The next such transit does not occur until May 9, 2016. An even more rare Venus transit of the Sun occurs in June 2012.

The Kitt Peak Visitor Center will host special hands-on activities and provide solar telescopes for safe viewing by the public starting at Noon on November 8, at a cost of $5 for adults and $2 for children over 12.

The mission of the Kitt Peak Visitor Center is to inspire a sense of wonder and awe about the Universe, through its exhibits, tours and public programs. For more information about the Kitt Peak Visitor Center, visit www.noao.edu/outreach or call the Visitor Center at (520) 318-8726.

Part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), Kitt Peak National Observatory is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. It is located 55 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, in the Quinlan Mountains on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The McMath-Pierce telescope on Kitt Peak is part of the National Solar Observatory, also operated by AURA for NSF.

The Exploratorium, located in San Francisco, is a public educational institution for peoples of all ages. This innovative museum of science, technology, art, and human perception provides for the general public, even those with the most limited scientific knowledge, an experience enabling them to understand science and nature.