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Wingate astronomer offers chance to view Mercury’s transit

by Luanne Williams

Eyes will be on the sky Monday at Wingate University as interested students, faculty and staff use eclipse glasses, solar binoculars and specially equipped telescopes to catch a glimpse of Mercury’s transit across the sun. The viewing party is open to the public. 

Grant Thompson, astronomer

“Mercury transits are generally rare. This century will host 14 transits, with the next expected on Nov. 13, 2032, although observers in North America won’t see the sight again until May 7, 2049,” explains Dr. Grant Thompson, who teaches astronomy in the University’s Department of Chemistry and Physics. He said Monday will find the Solar System’s smallest and innermost planet “between a rock and a hot place.”

For the first time since May 9, 2016, Mercury will pass directly between Earth and the Sun. For those in the Charlotte area, the transit will take place between 7:36 a.m. and 1:04 p.m., providing what Thompson called “a stunning silhouette.” 

10 people sit outside looking at the sky through eclipse glasses.

He said viewers can expect to see a small dot – Mercury – traveling across the Sun’s face over the course of more than five hours. It will appear nearly 200 times smaller than the Sun, making the silhouette difficult to see without magnification.

“It’s important to emphasize that you should never look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection, as eye damage may result,” Thompson warns. “You cannot safely view this rare event with just your sunglasses, standard binoculars or telescopes. You must use solar eclipse glasses, designated solar binoculars, and/or specially designed solar telescopes.

To give skywatchers a chance to view the event safely, Thompson will have solar telescopes set up and solar binoculars available along McGee Promenade (weather permitting) between 10 a.m. and noon on Monday. 

“We’d love to have folks join us to safely witness an event we cannot see again in North Carolina for another 29 years,” he said.

Nov. 6, 2019