August 22, 2008 #036 - Transit of Mercury

A few days before 11/7/1960 I was reading my Sky & Telescope magazine about the transit of Mercury that was about to occur. My Unitron telescope was equipped for solar projection and I was anticipating seeing my first transit. I had seen mercury before low in the evening sky and I had taped graph paper to the projection screen several time and drawn in sunspot groups. There was one major problem. The transit was on a school day and there was zero chance of my parents letting me stay home from school just to see a rare astronomical event!

I thought of all kinds of excuses but could not figure out how they would square with me setting up my telescope in the yard if I was sick enough to stay home. Then a thought hit me. Why not talk to the science teacher, and try to set up an observing session at school for students to see this rare event. It worked, I was allowed to set up in the front yard of the school. As the planet began it's transit, the small dark spot began to cross the projected sun. Classes were brought out by the teachers and I pointed out the tiny black dot. It did not take long for everyone to take a look and return to class. This left me to follow Mercury's progress across the entire solar disk. As I watched, the thought crossed my mind that no one seemed to be as excited or as enthusiastic as I was, not even the science teacher. No one else at school had a telescope and I wondered if teachers had not brought each class outside, if anyone would have bothered to take a look.

In the end I decided that it didn't matter. I had seen my first transit and it was worth it. Even if I was the only one that liked to watch a little black spot cross the solar disk. Today I marvel at the magnificent pictures of Mercury being returned from a small spacecraft that will soon orbit the first planet out from the sun. I rejoice that there are people who are interested in those planets and even make them their life's work.

Clear Sky - Rich

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