Morning Treats

Morning Treats

The morning sky offers a couple of treats tomorrow. One is a close conjunction between a bright star and a planet. The other is a transit of a planet across the face of the Sun.

The conjunction is between Mars and Spica, the brightest star of the constellation Virgo. They’ll be low in the east-southeast during early twilight. Spica is the brighter of the two, with orange Mars close to the left.

The transit begins shortly after sunrise for those in the eastern third of the United States. And it’ll already be under way at sunrise for those who are farther west. It takes place as Mercury, the Sun’s closest planet, passes directly between Sun and Earth. Mercury will look like a tiny dot silhouetted against the Sun.

Mercury transits happen 13 or 14 times each century, in either May or November. November transits happen when Mercury is at its closest to the Sun and farthest from Earth. So as seen from Earth, it forms a smaller dot than in May.

The transit will last about five and a half hours. It’ll end shortly after 1 p.m. as seen from the east, and earlier from more westerly time zones.

As with any event involving the Sun, never look at it directly — it could damage your eyes. Instead, use eclipse glasses or other protection. And even with protection, Mercury will be only a tiny dot, and quite hard to see. For the best view, watch online, or visit a planetarium or other site that’s tracking it. Then enjoy the transit — the last until 2032.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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