School Programs

Shoot the Messenger

Transit of Mercury
November 11, 2019

13 times every century the messenger god and tiny planet Mercury crosses between us and the Sun. 

This Transit of Mercury is like a miniature eclipse, and the next one will happen on November 11, 2019.  But looking at the Sun is dangerous - and Mercury is minuscule.

So here's the challenge: We challenge you to not only observe the Transit of Mercury safely, but also photograph it!

Whoa, that sounds tough, but here are the pluses:

  1. This is a really rare, and really cool event.
  2. You get to use telescopes, binoculars, and solar filters.
  3. It happens during the daytime between 7:35am-1:04pm EST (so you've got hours to look).
  4. November 11 is Veteran's Day so you might have the day off from work or school.
  5. If you are in school, this is the perfect classroom activity.
  6. And you can easily take pictures of the event and share them.

Our challenge is called Shoot the Messenger. 

Click: For a quick and easy printable guide

Throwing a Transit of Mercury Party

November 11, 2019 - 7:35am-1:04pm

Of course you can Come to the Observatory to see this event, but you can throw your own party too.

  • Choose a location that is sunny all day.
  • Invite everyone to attend.
  • Have shade nearby and snacks and drinks.
  • Set up safe solar viewing equipment.

Safety

The most important part of your Mercury transit party is the safety of the attendees. In order to stay safe it is necessary for you to have the proper equipment and to follow some basic rules. The most important rule is to: Never look directly at the Sun without proper equipment.  You will not only have to use use solar filters, but also magnify the image (since Mercury is so tiny).

Sun Funnel on a Telescope

Use a Sun Funnel (Best Option)

There are several different ways of safely viewing the Sun which will work well for the Transit.  If you own a telescope already you could build an apparatus called a Sun Funnel. This is where you project an image from the telescope, through the eyepiece, through a funnel and on to a screen.  This allows many people to safely see the Sun at the same time, and it is inexpensive to make.  How to Build Your Sun Funnel

Inexpensive but effective Solar Filters

If you have a smaller telescope there are several inexpensive filters made from black polymer which you can place over the end of the telescope in order to cut out most of the light of the Sun before it gets to your telescope.  Pre-made Filters for Sale

Black Polymer for making your own filter

If you have a larger telescope you could consider making your own filter from black polymer. There are sheets which can be purchased online and there is a link to a tutorial on how to make a lens cover using these and some cardboard.  Make Your Own Filters  or  Make Your Own Large Filters

Projecting the Sun with binoculars

Another method of projection uses a pair of binoculars. This is a front projection method and generally doesn’t create as large of an image of the Sun, but if you already have a pair of binoculars, this works.  How to Project An Image of the Sun With Binoculars

Personal Solar Telescope

If you want to see the details on the surface of the Sun during the transit, there is no better view than through a hydrogen-alpha telescope.  These specially-designed telescopes are fun to use on any sunny day but would make your transit experience even better.  Personal Solar Telescopes

Taking Pictures - Shooting the Messenger

Now this is the easy part!  If you use any of the safe viewing methods mentioned above you can just take a picture of the image of the Sun and look for that little black dot.  That is Mercury!  After you capture images with Mercury in silhouette, post them on social media #shootthemessenger and #transitofmercury2019 

Or email them to us at education@cincinnatiobservatory.org

More Info

NASA's site for the previous Transit of Mercury

A nice video and animation about the Transit of Mercury

Try our Printable Transit Party Guide and Download and Share Our Cool Logo

And if you have any questions please email Astronomer, Dean Regas dean@cincinnatiobservatory.org or call (513) 321-5186.

Don't miss this one because the next Transit of Mercury won't be visible in the United States again until 2049!