Skywatchers are getting excited about a rare event next week that won’t occur again until 2032.
On Monday, Nov. 11, Mercury will pass directly in front of the sun in an astronomical phenomenon known as a transit.
Mercury – the innermost planet in our solar system – will appear as a small black dot crossing the sun’s face.
The entire transit will be visible in the eastern United States. Folks in the central and western U.S. will have to wait until after sunrise to see the remainder of the event.
“Because Mercury is so small from our perspective on Earth, you’ll need binoculars or a telescope with a sun filter to see it,” NASA wrote on its website, adding that the event “only happens about 13 times per century.”
Similar to a solar eclipse, NASA cautions that looking at the sun directly or through a telescope without proper protection can lead to serious and permanent vision damage. “Do not look directly at the sun without a solar filter,” NASA said.
People will have a few hours to observe the event.
Mercury will come into view on the sun’s face around 7:36 a.m. EST. “It’ll make a leisurely journey across the sun’s face, reaching greatest transit (closest to sun’s center) at approximately 10:20 a.m. EST and finally exiting around 1:04 p.m. EST,” according to EarthSky’s Bruce McClure.
The entire 5½-hour path across the sun will be visible across the eastern U.S.
Mercury’s diameter is only 1/194th that of the sun, as seen from Earth, EarthSky said. That’s why eclipse expert Fred Espenak recommends using a telescope with a magnification of 50 to 100 times for witnessing the event.
Folks who miss Monday’s event will have to wait more than a decade for the next opportunity to see a Mercury transit: The next one is on Nov. 13, 2032, according to AccuWeather.