NASA cre­at­ed this enhanced view of Mer­cury using images from the Mes­sen­ger mis­sion.

NASA/Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Insti­tu­tion of Wash­ing­ton

About 13 times each cen­tu­ry, the clos­est plan­et to the sun pass­es between Earth and our star, treat­ing us to a rare tran­sit event. Your next chance to catch this astro­nom­i­cal won­der is Nov. 11. This won’t hap­pen again until 2032.

Why are these Mer­cury tran­sits so rare? It has to do with the plan­et’s high­ly eccen­tric orbit and how it mesh­es with Earth­’s orbit. Mer­cury’s dis­tance from the sun can vary quite a bit, and its orbit has an incline of 7 degrees com­pared with ours. That means the three of us don’t come into line very often.

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The tran­sit will be vis­i­ble for a large part of the globe, includ­ing most of North Amer­i­ca, South Amer­i­ca, Europe and Africa. Sor­ry, Aus­tralia, you won’t be able to wit­ness it in per­son.  

If you want to get pumped about this cos­mic event, then check out this NASA video of the 2016 Mer­cury tran­sit.

Time the tran­sit

Mer­cury will kick off the fes­tiv­i­ties at 4:35 a.m. PT. Don’t set your alarm too ear­ly if you’re on the West Coast of the US, though. You’ll have to wait for the sun to rise before the tran­sit is vis­i­ble. 

Mer­cury will take its sweet time strolling across the face of the sun: The tran­sit will last about 5.5 hours. 

Tools of the tran­sit

Impor­tant: Don’t look at the sun with the naked eye. You’re going to need the right equip­ment to see the tran­sit.

Mer­cury appears as a dain­ty dark spot mov­ing across the sun, so your reg­u­lar solar eclipse glass­es won’t work here. “Because Mer­cury is so small from our per­spec­tive on Earth, you’ll need binoc­u­lars or a tele­scope with a sun fil­ter to see it,” says NASA. 

How­ev­er, you can’t just slap on your eclipse glass­es and then hold up your binoc­u­lars. The space agency warns: “Do not com­bine solar viewing/eclipse glass­es with binoc­u­lars. You can severe­ly dam­age your eyes!” This can cause the solar film in the glass­es to melt, so don’t cook your eye­balls.

Mer­cury mis­sions Mer­cury-bound space­craft sends back first self­ies NASA snaps first images from Mer­cury orbit

If you don’t have the gear (or an astron­o­my bud­dy with the gear), then look for a tran­sit view­ing par­ty in your area. Astron­o­my clubs and muse­ums are like­ly places. Check out NASA’s search­able guide to clubs and events to find local space fans.

Your view of the tran­sit will also depend on weath­er. Here’s hop­ing for clear skies. If you can’t get access to the right equip­ment or if clouds threat­en to ruin your Mer­cury view­ing, then head online for the next best thing.

Watch the tran­sit live online

The oth­er way to catch the tran­sit action is to kick back in your home or office and enjoy a livestreamed event. The Vir­tu­al Tele­scope Project will offer an online obser­va­tion ses­sion start­ing at 4:30 a.m. PT. 

NASA’s Solar Dynam­ics Obser­va­to­ry team will share an almost-live ver­sion of the tran­sit using SDO images. 

Tour every plan­et in our solar sys­tem through NASA images 17 Pho­tos NASA Space Noti­fi­ca­tion on Noti­fi­ca­tion off Sci-Tech

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