Two of my coworkers are quite into astronomy. They check Astronomy Pic of the Day (as I do myself). They read all sorts of astronomy blogs. One of them even flew to London a few years back to be sure to have a good seat for the rare transit of Venus across the sun.
Today one of them came into the office bearing an odd box. I thought nothing of it until, around noon, the two of them took the box back outside. It turns out the box is fitted with a couple of special lenses and filters which allow you to view sun activity without the unpleasant searing pain and unfortunate side effect of blindness one would normally experience when looking directly at a star.
The reason for the box today is that Mercury is transiting the sun. The entire trip takes about five hours, during which the cute tiny little bitty dot of Mercury (see pic) travels from one edge of the sun to the other. Yes, it’s very difficult to see Mercury in that picture. It’s only a small planet, after all. If you click on the image to the left you’ll get a larger picture where it’s easier to make out that dot.
I have to admit not being all that jazzed about the general idea of watching an almost imperceptible planet completely imperceptibly “move” across the relatively massive face of a flaming ball of gas. OK, so the flaming ball of gas part is pretty cool, but the rest of it doesn’t float my boat too much. Still, it was kind of neat to look at the image projected in the box and think, “Huh…that’s in space. And I’m looking at it. Cool.”
So now I can say I’ve seen Mercury. Check that one off my list of “Things I’m Sure I Really Would Have Put On My List Of Things To Do Had It Occurred to Me To Do So.”