Transit of Mercury 2016

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The Transit of Mercury

10 May 2016


A large number of students gathered in the Science labs yesterday lunchtime to witness the Transit of Mercury.


The Physics department set up a home-made refracting telescope (made from two lenses and 2 pieces of drain-pipe!) to project the image of the Sun (with due warnings of the dire consequences of looking up the telescope!) onto a piece of paper on the floor. Although there was a lot of cloud cover, students and staff did manage - amid a great deal of excitement - to see Mercury repeatedly as a tiny dot in the middle of the projection of the Sun whenever the clouds parted.


Mercury was roughly a third of its way across the Sun, taking 7 1/2 hours to cross in total (travelling at 30 km/s, about 70,000 mph.) The most amazing discovery for most of the students was just how small Mercury is compared to the Sun. We also managed to use the large reflecting telescope to project a similar, but much larger and sharper image onto a piece of paper. This showed up Mercury extremely clearly and also a clear sun-spot (a cooler area of the Sun, which can be used to show the rotation of the Sun itself, but which tends to appear in times of greater solar activity), characterised by its irregular shape. It was a good moment!


Dr Philip Le Bas, Head of Physics