Western Washington sky watchers may get a rare chance to see Mercury cross the path of the sun Monday morning.
The planet’s transit will be visible from most parts of the world on Nov. 11. Seattle often misses remarkable celestial events at this time of year due to cloud cover, but in this case, the National Weather Service says we may have clear skies.
But you won’t be able to just go outside and look up. Because Mercury is so small and the sun so bright, you’ll need either a telescope or binoculars with a sun filter to safely view the phenomenon without damaging your eyes.
The event will be visible to us for 2 hours and 56 minutes: from 7:08 to 10:04 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, according to timeanddate.com.
“The smallest planet in the solar system is also the closest to our star, and occasionally it crosses in front of the sun’s bright disk from our perspective here on Earth. The last time this happened was in 2016, but after this upcoming transit, we’ll have to wait another 13 years to see the next one,” wrote Doris Elin Urrutia in an article on viewing the transit for the online astronomy site space.com.
Mercury and Venus are the only planets that can appear to pass in front of, or transit, the sun as seen from Earth, because their orbits are between the sun and Earth’s orbit. Mercury’s average distance from the sun is 35,983,095 miles (57,909,175 kilometers), or about 30% of the average distance between the Earth and the sun.
The planet will look like a tiny, moving black dot on the sun’s face as it passes in front of the sun, Urrutia wrote.