This solar system event only happens 13 times a century. Here’s how to watch it in Arizona

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The month of November will feature exciting astronomy events that include a rare planetary alignment. Accuweather

Looking directly at the sun can cause eye damage so watch the Mercury transit on the web or through a telescope with special solar filter.

The small planet of Mercury is always orbiting the sun. And on occasion, you can see Mercury passing in front of the sun from Earth.

This rare phenomenon, known as the “Mercury transit,” will happen on Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11. The transit will already be in progress as the sun rises and will last until 11:04 a.m. Arizona time. The tiny planet will appear as a black dot, slowly moving in front of the sun. Mercury will appear close to the sun’s center around 8:20 a.m.

“It doesn’t come around very often so it’s a nice thing to experience,” said Patrick Young, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

As Mercury crosses the sun it will look, “like a sun spot,” said Adam Block, who works at Steward Observatory in the University of Arizona’s Department of Astronomy.

The Mercury transit is too small to be observed with the naked eye and looking directly at the sun can cause serious eye damage. Instead, watch the Mercury transit on the internet or use a telescope equipped with a special solar filter, said Kevin Schindler, historian at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. 

How to watch the Mercury transit

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will livestream the Mercury transit on Monday morning. Another option for watching live is the Virtual Telescope Project

Because Monday is a holiday, there aren’t a lot of telescope viewing options for the public.

In the Phoenix area, ASU’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team will have telescopes set up for public viewing outside their facilities, which is just west of Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. The telescopes will be available from 9 to 11:04 a.m. The team also will have experts on hand with maps, posters and informational handouts. 

In Flagstaff, Lowell Observatory will host a Mercury Transit Breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. The cost is $50 and includes a catered meal and unlimited viewing through filtered telescopes. Tickets can be booked online at the observatory website

And while you’re watching the Mercury transit, here’s some trivia you can casually mention to impress people: 

  • The only two planets you can see from Earth when they pass in front of the sun are Mercury and Venus.
  • The last Mercury transit was May 9, 2016, and the next transit won’t happen for another 13 years — in November 2032. 
  • Mercury transits only happen 13 or 14 times a century, and often occur a couple of years apart.
  • Transits of Venus are even rarer than the Mercury transit. The last Venus transit was in 2012 and another one won’t happen until 2117.

Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8072. Follow her on Twitter @anneryman.

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