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Mercury putting on show Monday, making rare pass across the sun

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center  SDO | Genna Duberstein via AP

A transit was first seen in 1631, two decades after the invention of the telescope, by French astronomer Pierre Gassendi. There's no harm in pulling out the eclipse glasses from the total solar eclipse across the USA two years ago, but it would take "exceptional vision" to spot minuscule Mercury, said NASA solar astrophysicist Alex Young. You probably donned a pair of ISO-certified, polycarbonate glasses and stared up at the sky in wonder. In a narrow path of totality, day turned to night as the sunlight was extinguished.

Unlike its 2016 transit, Mercury will score a near bull's-eye this time, passing practically dead center in front of our star. Mercury is actually a little bigger than the moon - it's about 874 miles larger in diameter. Rather, Mercury will be visible from Earth as a wee dot silhouetted against a vast, glowing, solar backdrop, according to NASA. That's what makes it look so tiny from Earth.

Katara has invited residents to view a rare phenomenon where Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system, will pass across the solar disk tomorrow November 11, 2019.

Where will it be visible?

In Europe (including the UK), the middle East, and most of Africa, the sun will set before the transit ends, and so the latter part of the event will not be visible. The eastern half of North America and all of South America will see the whole show, which will last until 6:04 p.m. UTC. Observers in eastern Asia, southern and south-eastern Asia, and Australia will not be able to see the transit.

For the Pacific Coast, it's a sunset transit. Though it may be tempting in this case, because mercury is so small in comparison to the sun, you should not combine eclipse glasses and binoculars. However, he warned that looking at the Sun without appropriate protection can seriously damage the eyes.

According to NASA, the Solar Dynamics Observatory's website' will be showing "near real-time" images of the transit, so you don't have to miss this rare event, no matter where you are. You can tune into the live stream here. The next European Space Agency mission BepiColombo launched in 2017, will study the planet from 2024 onwards.

A few readers have asked about producing pinhole cameras as they did for the eclipse.

Scientists will use the transit to fine-tune telescopes, especially those in space that can not be adjusted by hand, according to Young.

Mercury's transit only happens about 13 times a century.

Mercury transits have always been useful tools for scientists. As the orbit of Mercury around the Sun is tilted compared with the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, the planet normally appears to pass above or below our nearest star.

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