Mercury is about to make a rare journey across the face of the sun

illustration of timing of Mercury transit

For seven hours on May 9, Mercury will appear as a small dot traveling across the face of the sun. In the illustration above, Mercury is shown approximately to scale with the sun.

C. Crockett, E. Otwell, F. Espenak/eclipsewise.com

The planet Mercury is about to throw some shade at Earth.

For about seven hours on Monday, May 9, the innermost planet will trek across the face of the sun and cast a shadow on our planet. During its journey, a rare event known as a transit, Mercury will appear as a tiny black speck on the sun. The transit will begin at 7:12 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and end at 2:42 p.m. It will be visible from most countries, though folks in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and islands in the West Pacific are out of luck.

Transits of Mercury happen on average about eight times a century and only in May or November. The last one was in 2006; the next one won’t be until 2019.

Don’t stare at the sun to try and see it. Seriously. Don’t do that. Staring at the sun is dangerous. Plus, Mercury is tiny. A solar-filtered telescope with at least 50x magnification is the best and safest way to enjoy the show. Many astronomy clubs and organizations will have viewing events. And there will be many ways to see it online such as NASA TV, the Virtual Telescope Project and the Slooh Observatory

Christopher Crockett is a freelance science writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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