Physics Dept. & Astronomy Club Host Transit of Mercury Watch

A student using the observatory telescope to view the transit of Mercury

The Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Astronomy Club teamed up on Monday, Nov. 12 to host a watch party at the Rector Observatory for the transit of Mercury, a celestial event in which the planet Mer- cury passes directly between the Sun and Earth, allowing it to be viewed from Earth as a small black dot against the Sun. “We’re celebrating by opening up the telescope to the com- munity, and we’re having fun helping people look through the telescope,” explained As- sociate Professor of Physics & Astronomy and department chair Catrina Hamilton-Drag- er. The most recent transit of Mercury occurred in May 2016 and, according to Hamilton-Drager, the next transit to be visible from North America will not occur until 2049. “Its not all that common,” Hamilton-Drager added.

“This is a once in a long-time event,” said Professor of Phys- ics & Astronomy David Jack- son, “its always amazing to see the scale. We know this is a huge planet, but [its transiting] makes it look so miniscule.”

Students expressed interest in the transit. “I didn’t know much about it until I came to this” explained Julia Kagan ‘21, “Mercury is retrograding, which I knew for astrology reasons, so I thought it would be cool to see the actual thing.”

“As a student, I never had an opportunity to come to the telescope,” added Outreach & Communication Specialist of Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring Hayat Rasul ‘19, “it’s really really cool to see stuff that I just read about.”

Aidan Huntingdon ‘23 ex- pressed surprise at how small the planet when projected against the background of the sun. “I was surprised,” he said. “I think its cool to get to use the telescope. It’s surprising how tiny it was. I thought it would be just a little bit visible. It was really small” added Kelly Corless ‘23. Jackson added that “it puts our place on earth in perspective. We’re just a speck.”