UPDATE (10 November 2019): Here is a link to a live broadcast of Monday’s Mercury transit, hosted by timeanddate.com:
If you can’t watch the transit directly for any reason, be sure to tune in with your students — and maybe take a picture of them watching it, so that when it comes around again in 2032 they’ll have proof they saw it the previous time. ☿🌞 😊
A rare astronomical event will take place this coming Monday, November 11th: a transit of Mercury across the face of the sun. It will be a bit tricky to see, but you and your homeschool students should certainly give it a try, either outdoors as it happens or online via one of a number of planned broadcasts.
Transits of Mercury occur only about thirteen times a century, so if you miss this one, you’ll have to wait until 2032 to see one again. Here are some basic facts from timeanddate.com — if the website detects your location correctly, it should provide local times for all phases of the event:
And here’s a comprehensive viewing guide and explanation of the transit from space.com:
The best way to observe a Mercury transit is through a telescope with a proper solar filter. (Obligatory safety notice: never look directly at the sun without proper eye protection, and never look at the sun through binoculars or a telescope without a special solar filter.) Check with a local astronomy club in your area, a science museum, or a local college or university, to see if they are setting up a public viewing. For most locations in North America the transit will be visible for several hours in the morning, so viewing time should be ample (weather permitting).
Here’s some dramatically presented footage of the last Mercury transit (9 May 2016), courtesy of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day website — and note that this is significantly speeded up, as the full transit in real time takes almost five hours:
Another observing approach — and a great homeschool project — is to make a solar projector out of a small telescope or pair of binoculars. Here’s a good video from space.com that shows just how to do it:
A simple projector of this kind will let you view the sun safely, and it’s perfect for watching eclipses, sunspots, and other solar phenomena as well. (We happen to be in a period of very low solar activity right now and there are currently no sunspots visible.)
If the weather is poor in your location or if you don’t have a good viewing opportunity for any other reason, you should be able to watch the transit broadcast online. There should be several websites doing this — one advanced example will be NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:
We’ll update with links to additional broadcasts as they become available.
A transit of Mercury is not a big, visually dramatic event, like a solar eclipse. If you have very young children, they may not get a lot out of watching it. (I’d take a photo of them watching an online broadcast, however, so they will have proof thirteen years from now, when it comes around again, that they saw it this time.) But even though they’re not flashy, planetary transits of this kind have provided astronomers with critical information that has helped determine the size of the solar system and the orbital details of the planets. They’ve been closely studied for centuries, and next week, you and your young astronomers can join in that tradition.
What astronomical alignments are you examining in your homeschool this Cygnus Term? 🔭
❡ Choose something like a star: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Your recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas (riverhouses.org/books) both contain charts of the constellations that will show you all the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌌
❡ Star bright: If you’d like some more easy and comfortable homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our annual River Houses Star Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us month by month as we make twelve heavenly friends-for-life over the course of the year. 🌟
❡ Watchers of the skies: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our River Houses mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🔭