On the morning of Monday, Nov. 11, the planet Mercury as seen from Carroll County will pass across the face of the sun. Any observation of this transit of Mercury will require special filters to keep one’s eyes safe. For those who don’t have the proper equipment to observe this somewhat rare celestial phenomenon, the Westminster Astronomical Society will have you covered.
“We’re doing a number of events,” said Wayne “Skip” Bird," outreach coordinator for the astronomy club. “We’re doing one at the Bear Branch Nature Center and also at Soldier’s Delight.”
On Monday, Veterans Day, there will also be an event at the Mount Airy Town open space.
All the events will take place during the hours the transit takes to occur and will be visible from the region, according to Bird.
“It starts at 7:35 a.m. so we will be out there by around 7 a.m. and it goes until around 1:30 p.m.,” he said. “Because Mercury is so close to the sun, it takes a long time to go across it.”
Transits of Mercury are relatively rare, with just 13 occurring each century on average. The most recent transit visible from Maryland took place May 9, 2016, but the next will not take place until Nov. 13, 2032.
Mercury is too small to be seen against the sun without magnification, Bird said, so while it is safe to look at the sun during the transit using eclipse glasses — and never safe to view the sun with the naked eye or unfiltered optics — those viewing will want binoculars, at the least to be able to make out the spot that is Mercury against our local star. There will be a variety of filter-equipped telescopes available at the different club event locations, including the 14-inch reflector stationed at the Bear Branch observatory.
“The big 14-inch will be solar filtered so Mercury will look like a nice sized dot, and then we will also have a hydrogen alpha telescope,” Bird said. “That shows prominence and filaments. It also shows sunspots and Mercury going across.”
Those interested in bringing their own telescopes to an event are welcome to do so, according to Bird, providing they have their own proper solar filter for the scope.
“You need to acquire on your own because each telescope is a different size, and filters are made for individual telescopes,” he said.
And following the transit, Bird said, anyone interested in acquiring their own telescope is welcome to attend the free monthly meeting of the Westminster Astronomical Society at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
“Next Wednesday is our regular club meeting and we call it the ‘telescope buyer’s workshop,'” he said. “We will have a guest speaker named Gary Hand — he used to own Hands on Optics, a telescope store in Damascus — and he’s going to be our guest speaker talking about the different types of scopes, which one’s to buy, and which ones not to buy, for your budding young astronomer.”
If You Go
What: Westminster Astronomical Society transit of Mercury observing event
When: 7:35 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday Nov. 11
Where: Bear Branch Nature Center, 300 John Owings Road, Westminster; Town Open Space, 1099 Rising Ridge Road, Mount Airy, Soldier’s Delight Overlook, 5344 Deer Park Road, Owings Mills
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For more information, visit www.westminsterastro.org.