Rowan offers public viewing of rare celestial event

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On Wednesday, November 8, the planet Mercury will pass across the face of the sun, an event called a "transit." Astronomers at Rowan University in Glassboro will have properly filtered telescopes avai

On Wednesday, November 8, the planet Mercury will pass across the face of the sun, an event called a "transit." Astronomers at Rowan University in Glassboro will have properly filtered telescopes available to the public to view the spectacle.

Transits of Mercury are rather rare, according to Keith Johnson, director of Rowan's Edelman Planetarium. The last one took place in 2003; the next will not be seen until 2016. There will be only 14 Mercurian transits in this century.

Transits are not easy to witness. Observing the sun without protective filters leads to rapid and permanent damage to the eye. Using a telescope increases the danger, since telescopes concentrate light from celestial objects into a more intense beam. But Mercury is too small to see without telescopic magnification.

The solution is to use nearly opaque filters that are specially designed to block most of the sun's light across a broad band of wavelengths. One should not use photographic film, CDs, or other "home remedies" to accomplish this task, unless one is an expert on their properties, Johnson noted.

The best way to view a transit is through a telescope equipped with a true solar filter. Rowan's public viewing of the transit, sponsored by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Edelman Planetarium, will provide this opportunity.

Several solar telescopes will be set up at the viewing area atop the Science Building, which is east of Parking Lot A on the north side of Route 322, between Bosshart Hall and Robinson Hall. Access to the roof is via the elevator just inside the western entrance to the building. In addition to the telescopes, a short planetarium presentation will be given at various times to explain more about the event. The planetarium is located on the ground floor on the north side of the building.

The transit itself will start at 2:12 p.m. and will be visible until the sun sets around 4:45 p.m. The public is invited to remain or return for additional evening observing until 9 p.m. Rowan also will offer a short planetarium show on the current night sky in the evening.

In the event of cloudy weather, the entire event will be cancelled, as telescopes cannot be used to pierce the clouds. Event organizers will try to make this information available at (856) 256-5460.

Schedule of events:

1:30 p.m. Planetarium presentation (15 minutes)

2:00 p.m. Telescopes open to the public

2:12 p.m. Transit begins

2:30 p.m. Planetarium presentation

3:30 p.m. Planetarium presentation

4:45 p.m. Sun sets; transit event concludes for New Jersey

6:30 p.m. Evening observing begins

6:30 p.m. Planetarium show (15 minutes)

7:30 p.m. Planetarium show

9:00 p.m. Observing concludes

For more information contact Keith Johnson at (856) 256-4389

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