Skip to main content

There's a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today

A man by the name of Gordon Sumner wrote those words some time in the early 1980s. They were especially applicable yesterday (May 9, 2016) because there was in fact a little black spot on the Sun, and not an ordinary one.

There are almost always areas of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun that appear as small, black, irregularly-shaped spots. We refer to them sunspots. But the little black spot in question yesterday was an interloper, an intruder, a wanderer... and extremely circular in appearance. It was the planet Mercury.

Mercury, being the closest planet to the Sun, transits the face of the solar disk now and then, every few years or so. The only other planet to do this is Venus. Venus transiting the Sun is a much rarer occasion. It last occurred in 2012 and won't happen again until 2117.

Actually, all planets transit the Sun, just not from our perspective here on Earth. Many events in the solar system are a matter of perspective. We can only see Mercury or Venus transit the Sun because they are the only planets that ever get between the Sun and us since they are the only planets closer to the Sun than us. The Moon can also transit the Sun but we refer to that as an eclipse. An eclipse is a transit, but because of our perspective, the Moon appears about as large as the Sun in the sky, and has the ability to fully or partially eclipse it.

But back to the transit... Here's a video showing all ~6 hours of the transit (sped up, of course) along with some scenic time lapse and aerial shots.

Mercury's "3rd contact" as it exits the face of the Sun.


Popular posts from this blog

The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

American eclipses are about to be made great again! It's been about 38 years since there's been a total solar eclipse over the American mainland. And that one just grazed the northwest and northern plains before turning traitor and curving up into Canada. This time around, the path of totality runs essentially through the middle of the entire width of the continental United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. It will be one of the most witnessed total solar eclipses in history.
When: Monday, August 21st (exact times vary based on your location... more below)Where: An approximately 70-mile wide path that cuts through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.Greatest Eclipse: Near Hopkinsville, KentuckyLongest Eclipse: Near Carbondale, IllinoisEclipse LengthShortest: West coast of Oregon at about 1 minute 58 secondsLongest: Southern Illinois at about 2 minutes 41 secondsHow is all the above in…

The Ambiguously Galactic Duo

M81 and M82 are two galaxies hanging out in the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. M81, on the right, is also referred to as Bode's Galaxy (for its discoverer, Johann Elert Bode). M82, on the left, is also know as the Cigar Galaxy.

Here are the wacky things about images like this one...

(1) Every single star you see in this image is in our own galaxy. It's easy to think you're seeing individual stars in M81 and M82 but that's simply not the case. At 12 million light years away, the galaxies are fairly close to us but they're still much too far to be able to resolve individual stars. Also, while there are such things as rogue stars that get flung out of their home galaxies due to gravitational disturbances, it would be quite rare for one to show up in an amateur astronomer's image.

(2) If your monitor is bright enough and calibrated well, you can see a lot of fuzzy patches, each of which is another galaxy!

Don't look at them too closely... M81 harbors…

Dusk in the Desert

Dusk in the desert can be a magical time. The sun has just set, temperatures continue to cool and pink and orange hues take over the landscape.

Star parties are a great way to experience that time of day. Here are a couple aerial shots as star party guests at GMARS gather and get ready for an evening of observing and imaging.

And, of course, here's an aerial video of the Landers area. It features the area at dusk, a 1-mile flight from GMARS to CS3 and back, flyovers of star party-goers, and a flight over Kate's Lazy Desert (at the end of the video).