Public viewing set for rare transit of Mercury across the sun

Photo credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO (European Space Agency/NASA/Solar and Heliospheric Observatory)

The Astronomy Club of Asheville wants people to see a somewhat rare planetary event, when Mercury, 52 million miles away and a little bit larger than our own moon, will pass between the sun and the Earth on Monday, May 9. The club will host a special viewing event at UNC Asheville, using special equipment.

“This is not a wow event, but it’s a unique event, and observing it will lead to greater understanding with what’s going on in our own solar system,” said Dominic Lesnar, president of the astronomy club.

The transit occurs from 7:13 a.m. to 2:42 p.m., and visitors will be able to see the event through a handful of telescopes and binoculars fitted with special filters that allow viewing of the sun’s atmosphere.

Never look at the sun directly without protection, it will damage your eyesight.

Lesnar says the event can be thought of as a very partial eclipse of the sun. “[Mercury] will be shadowing about 1/160 of the sun’s light, so it’s pretty innocuous. You’ll see a beautifully circular shape travel across the sun’s surface, and some sun spots may actually appear to be larger than Mercury,” Lesnar said.

The next transit of Mercury visible in the United States will be in 2019, and after that, 2049.

“This only happens about 13 times per century worldwide, so it’s pretty rare,” Lesnar said. The astronomy club will be answering questions and providing information about our solar system and beyond. “Looking up and being able to observe events like this are great opportunities for education,” he said.

Observers are welcome to drop in any time between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., on the top level of the Kimmel Arena parking deck on the UNC Asheville campus, where the viewing will be hosted. Visitors may park in the visitor parking spaces on the lower level of the deck, or in lots P11, P12, or any other visitor lots on campus. The Astronomy Club of Asheville will offer solar shades for a donation of $2. No preregistration is required for the free viewing.

The viewing of the transit of Mercury is weather-dependent. A go/no-go determination for the event will be made early in the morning May 9, and the status will be posted at and

About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at Follow me @pbarcas

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