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Mercury Transit gets its own show on OU campus

Members of the public are being invited to join scientists on the OU’s campus in Milton Keynes to experience a once-in-a-generation celestial event.

The Transit of Mercury will see Mercury pass directly across the Sun’s face on May 9th.  The Open University is throwing open its doors to schools and budding astronomers to come and use special telescopes to witness the event and have it explained by leading scientists.

Transits occur when a planet closer to the Sun than the Earth passes directly across the Sun’s face.


Solar telescopes to watch Mercury

Researchers will be giving members of the public a chance to view planet Mercury through solar telescopes as a black dot silhouetted against the Sun at the Mercury Transit Festival on the OU’s Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes.

The transit of Mercury will last from 12:12 to 19:42. Previous transits in November 2006 and May 2003 were not well seen from the UK, and this is the best opportunity to see a transit of Mercury from the UK since 1973.

Commenting on the OU Mercury Transit Festival, Professor David Rothery said:

“I’ve been studying spacecraft images of Mercury for a long time, and I’m looking forward to the transit just to see it in a different way, rather than as an opportunity to discover anything. Renowned astronomer Edmund Halley famously observed a transit of Mercury across the Sun in 1676 from the south Atlantic island of St Helena, where he had been sent to catalogue the stars on the southern sky.”

Timing the start and the end of the transit from different locations of the globe is a way to determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

OU researchers are well placed to provide access to the transit which is not observable by the naked eye. It can be observed by audiences through OU solar telescopes on the Mulberry Lawn and on web-streamed images from European Space Agency satellites and telescopes that will be shared throughout the event. They will also share their expertise of using data from NASA’s MESSENGER mission and will be able to talk about their involvement in BepiColombo, the next mission to Mercury which will go into orbit around the planet in 2025.

The Mercury Transit Festival event will take place at The Open University – Walton Hall, MK7 6AA on Monday 9 May. It will be open to the public from 16:00 to 20:00 (BST).

Entry is free for the OU Mercury Transit Festival, but visitors are urged to register:

About Author

Christine is a manager in the Media Relations team within the Marcomms Unit at the OU. She is an experienced BBC journalist, sub-editor and news editor and has a background in regional newspapers. After moving to PR she worked as a press officer for the Zoological Society of London. She is doing an MA in Philosophy with The Open University; she focuses on FASS stories and widening access in HE. Chris swims regularly and has a pet Tortoise called Lightning.

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