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Transit of Mercury viewed by hundreds at Western's Cronyn Observatory

Transit of Mercury 2016 viewed at Western University, London, Canada

Monday 9 May 2016 dawned crisp and clear.

Before the sun broke over the horizon, a handful of Physics and Astronomy volunteers, Tim Hortons cups in hand, were preparing Cronyn Observatory for a day of public viewing of the transit of planet Mercury.

Mercury transits across the face of the sun roughly 13 or 14 times per century.  The next two such transits that will be visible from North America will occur in 2019 and 2032.

Telescopes were set up for safe viewing of the event, and newly designed eclipse glasses were made available to the public.

The event was a co-operative effort between The Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), The Department of PhilosophyThe Rotman Institute of Philosophy,, and last but certainly not least, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) London Centre.

As the sun peeked over the corner of Alumni hall at about 7am, all telescopes, armed with solar protection filters, were trained on it.

There was a nice complement of telescopes available for viewing:

The historic 25.4cm Cronyn refractor used a projection system via a Herschel wedge prism. On the deck of the observatory Heather MacIsaac had her 90mm Maksutov scope, Allan Leparskas manned his Canon 7D camera with 400mm(w 1.5x extender), and Everett Clark was in charge of the departmental 21cm Schmidt-Cassegrain scope.

In the Cronyn Observatory classroom there was a live network feed of the transit viewing from the Coca Cola Space Science Center at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia, on the banks of the famous Chattahoochie River.

In the basement of the observatory, the middle room held a planetary transit simulation device, which turned out to be very popular. In addition, the far room of the basement contained historic items from the observatory's past, including H.R. Kingston's telescope, the Colgrove-Kingston Sotellunium, a recreated dark room, and many small historic items from the John Barnett collection, to name a few.

The following equipment was distributed behind the observatory in the courtyard beside the Engineering building; Dave Clark's 20 cm. Schmidt Cassegrain scope, Steve Gauthier's 20 cm. Newtonian reflector (stopped down), Mike Costa's 60mm refractor, Peter Jedicke's Sunspotter, Dale Armstrong's 80mm refractor, and Paul Keran's ED80 SKywatcher refractor, which was used along with a Malincam CCD camera to show an image on a TV monitor.

Observatory Director Jan Cami used the department's 90mm Coronado solar telescope, complete with Hydrogen alpha filter.

Out in front of the observatory, Kendra Kellogg set up a planet walk. An orange balloon representing the Sun was placed at the Cronyn Observatory front walk. The planets were then spaced down the street at distances exactly proportional to their real distances from the sun, but scaled to the size of the orange balloon. Thus, visitors could walk from the Sun out through the solar system out as far as Saturn, which was situated near the Schulich School of Medicine.

Short astronomy talks were given by volunteers in one of the Engineering building classrooms that is closest to the observatory. Professors Sarah Gallagher spoke on “The Wonderful Thing about Transits”;  Chris Smeenk on “Why Mercury Made Einstein’s Heart Flutter”; and Catherine Neish made her presentation on “Icy Hot Mercury” twice.   Along with these talks, members of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy Jamie Shaw and Craig Fox had on hand a demonstration of the warping of space-time.

In total, including some classes of grade 6 and grade 9 school students, approximately 400 visitors took part in the viewing of the Mercury transit.

A few memorable moments.

Early in the morning some volunteers made the fortuitous sighting of an Exosat satellite pass in front of the Sun as they were viewing through telescopes.

In addition, one lucky photographer obtained an image of a jet airplane as it flew past the disk of the Sun while Mercury was in transit.

Lastly we had one special visitor who had grown up and lived along the shores of Mercury Bay in New Zealand. This is the location of the famous Cooks Beach where Captain Cook had landed in order to view the transit of Mercury on 9 November 1769. Our visitor had not witnessed a transit of Mercury until visiting Western on May 9, 2016.

Special thanks to Cronyn Observatory Director Jan Cami, along with co-ordinator of volunteers Dilini Subasinghe, whose efforts made the event possible.

Volunteers included Dilini Subasinghe, Parshati Patel, Shannon Hicks, Kendra Kellogg, Sarah Gallagher, Chris Smeenk, Jamie Shaw, Catherine Neish, Craig Fox, Christy Caudill, Dave Stock, Juan-Sebastian Bruzzone, Karina Jasinski, Will Hyland, Heather MacIsaac, Paul Kerans, Mike Costa, Dave Clark, Everett Clark, Steve Gauthier, Dale Armstrong, Peter Jedicke, Bob Duff,  Tony Martinez,  John de Bruyn, Els Peeters, Jan Cami, John Landstreet, Laura Lenkic, Nathalie Thibert, Maryam Tabeshian, Aaron Sigut, Ian Mulholland, Anahi Granada, Collin Knight, Alyssa Gilbert, Tashlin Reddy, Shailesh Nene, Henry Leparskas.

[images on Flickr]

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