Rare Mercury transit seen from Tennessee Valley

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Much of the eastern half of the country — including the Tennessee Valley — witnessed a relatively rare celestial event this morning.

From 6:12 a.m. CDT to 1:42 p.m. CDT Monday, the planet Mercury transited across the sun, appearing as a small, black dot superimposed on the solar disc.

Ring illustrates Mercury's location. (Photo: Andrew Lecher)
Ring illustrates Mercury’s location. (Photo: Andrew Lecher)

Andrew Lecher snapped this photo of Mercury transiting the sun from Smith Lake in Cullman County at approximately 10 a.m. CDT in between breaks in the cloud cover. Brion Au also observed the transit in Huntsville during moments of relatively cleared skies (see photo gallery, above).

A planetary transit occurs when a planet, like Mercury, moves between the Earth and the sun. According to NASA, Mercury’s solar transit occurs, on average, about 13 times each century. The last time Mercury was observed to cross over the sun was a decade ago, in 2006.

Data pix.

If you missed the event, you are in luck: The next Mercury transit will take place on November 11, 2019, but after that, you will have to wait until 2032 to observe the mercurial event. Be sure to protect your eyes by using a telescope or binoculars featuring proper solar filters. Never look directly at the sun without any eye protection; doing so could damage your eyes and cause blindness.