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Mercury transits and meteor showers in May

This article appeared in the May 6, 2016 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

 

By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise

 

Explorit Science Center Astronomy Club will have an early morning meeting on Monday, May 9, from 7 – 9 am to view the transit of Mercury.  Join us at Explorit Science Center  at 3141 5th Street, Davis, where there will be telescopes equipped with special solar filters to view the event safely.

 

From predawn to nearly noon, the elusive planet Mercury is visible as a small black dot moving across the rising sun’s disk when viewed through a solar telescope. The transit of Mercury occurs when the orbit of the inner planet aligns with the orbit of the Earth and the Sun, resulting in a planetary eclipse from the Earth’s perspective.

 

This year, the Mercury transit will begin at 4:15 am and end at 11:39 am. The greatest transit occurs at 7:57 am when the planet will be halfway across the Sun’s surface. These transits are relatively rare, averaging about 13 times per century. The previous Mercury transit occurred on November 8, 2006 and the next one will be on November 11, 2019.

 

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is another astronomical event ideal for viewing in early May. The peak activity is during the early mornings of May 6 and May 7. This will be one of the best meteor showers to observe in 2016. Moonlight will interfere with most other meteor showers this year, including the perennial favorite Perseids in August.

 

The ideal time to observe a meteor shower is between midnight and sunrise, when maximum number of meteors can be seen moving in the sky in all directions. The ideal location is an open area away from lights which allows for an unobstructed view of the sky. No special equipment is required to view the celestial fireworks.

 

 

A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left in the wake of a comet during its perihelion (closest approach to the sun). As a comet is mostly a ‘dirty snowball,’ its frozen gases vaporize and carry tiny fragments of dust that continue to orbit in the same orbit as the parent comet. An annual meteor shower results when Earth arrives at the point in space intersecting the comet’s orbit.

 

Eta Aquarids meteor shower results when the debris from by Halley’s Comet enters Earth's atmosphere at high speeds and vaporizes. This comet has been observed since prehistoric times and is named in honor of Edmond Halley who in 1705 determined its visible period to be every 75 – 76 years. Halley’s Comet, officially designated 1P/Halley, was last observed in 1986 and will next be observed in 2061.

 

 

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Explorit’s coming events:

 

  • Explorit’s Gallery is open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. and every Friday, 3:00-6:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free. Come check out the new Nano Mini Exhibition!
  • Summer Science Camp registration is open now! Visit www.explorit.org for all the details.  Interested in volunteering at our Summer Science Camps?  Call Explorit now!

Saturday, May 7 “Lumbering Lumbricus- Hey, Worms Got Culture!”  10 am – 12 noon Meet Explorit’s animals and hear about our new worm cultures and the benefits of composting.  Have a look at these gentle and essential parts of our soil ecosystems- nothing fishy here!

  • Interested in helping out the community through board membership? Explorit is currently seeking individuals in the community to serve as members of our volunteer board. Please call or email for additional information on how to apply.
  • Interested in membership?  Think your Explorit membership may have lapsed?  Call Explorit at 530-756-0191 to check or sign up!
  • Birthdays are back at Explorit!  Call Explorit at 530-756-0191 for more information or to book your party.

 

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Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

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