Space: It’s way more exciting than whatever else you’ve got going on today.
Don’t look now — seriously, don't, you’ll damage your eyes — but the smallest planet in our solar system just did something it only does 13 times every century: travel across the face of the sun, as seen from Earth.
When the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, we call it a solar eclipse. When Mercury or Venus does it, it’s called a planetary “transit.” Mercury’s seven-and-a-half-hour transit lasted until about 2:40 p.m. eastern time. It was Mercury’s first such trip since 2006, and if you missed today’s, be sure you’re available for the next one on Nov. 11, 2019 (tips below on how to watch safely). Otherwise, you’ll be waiting till Nov. 13, 2032.
Its flight path looked something like this:
For most of us, the Mercury transit was mainly an opportunity to see something cool that we don’t see very often. For scientists, though, it was a rare opportunity to learn something new about the tiny planet. Researchers at the Big Bear Solar Observatory in California hope that observing Mercury backlit by sunlight will reveal information about the planet’s atmosphere, in particular how the surface releases sodium.
There were a few ways to watch it go down.
If you had the right gear, you could watch the transit from your front yard.
You could swing by your local observatory or the science buildings at a nearby university. Some had viewing stations set up.
NASA hosted a livestream.
But really, the best option for most of us was to follow along on social media. And we still can. NASA, other space agencies and science nerds have been filling Twitter and Facebook with all the highlights. Follow the hashtag #MercuryTransit. Mercury's transit has ended, but there's sure to be more great photos, GIFs and videos rolling in.