The Science Behind Mercury's Transit of the Sun | Summary and Q&A

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May 9, 2016
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NASA
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The Science Behind Mercury's Transit of the Sun

TL;DR

The Mercury transit of the sun is a rare event that occurs about 13 times a century, offering scientists the opportunity to study the atmosphere of Mercury and learn more about the dynamics of our solar system.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is a transit?

A transit is when a smaller celestial body passes in front of a larger one, causing it to appear as a small dot moving across the larger body.

Q: Is it safe to look directly at the sun during a transit?

No, it is not safe to look directly at the sun. Special protective measures, such as telescopes with proper filters, are required to safely observe the transit.

Q: What have we learned about Mercury from past missions?

Past missions, such as MESSENGER, have provided valuable information about Mercury's surface, atmosphere, and magnetic field. We now know that Mercury has a solid, rocky surface and a molten iron core.

Q: How does a transit help scientists determine the distance and size of a planet?

By observing transits from different locations on Earth, scientists can use triangulation to calculate the distance to the planet. Timing the duration of the transit allows them to determine the size of the planet's orbit.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The Mercury transit is when the smaller planet Mercury passes in front of the larger sun, appearing as a small dot traveling across the sun.

  • This event only happens about 13 times a century and offers scientists the chance to study the atmosphere of Mercury.

  • The transit also provides insight into the dynamics of our solar system and offers opportunities for future missions to explore the planets and beyond.

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