Explorations: my author blog

The Transit of Mercury (crossposted from my livejournal)

Today, by great good luck, I saw something remarkable. The local astronomy club set up telescopes for viewing the transit of Mercury across the sun. After a solid week of raw, rainy weather, we had a brilliant day. There was a strong wind – the guys told me the wind had actually played havoc with the telescopes – and scarcely a cloud in the sky. I got to the field about a half hour before the viewing period ended and got to look at or through three of the scopes.


 The first one showed the silhouette of what was happening; a rather blurry image cast on what looked like grey vinyl or canvas. The second gave a very good view, with the sun looking very orange. What I took for Mercury was actually a sunspot; the sunspots are a good deal bigger than the planet! But then I came to the third scope.

 This blocks out all light but Hydrogen 2, I think the guys told me. Through it, the sun looked very sharp and clear, and a very dark orangey red, like a blood orange. Like a blood orange, it had crinkly skin – or seemed to. Mercury was also very sharp and clear; a perfect little black circle towards the bottom of the sun. And – in this scope, I could see two solar flares! They looked almost like permanent features, like waterfalls, and they were huge! Bigger than Mercury. One of the guys said a single solar flare can be as long as five times the diameter of the earth. I couldn’t believe I could actually see them.