May 10

Mercury Solar Transit 2016

Thought I’d post a few photos of the recent transit of Mercury across the Sun to show what can be done with a small telescope and a solar filter. Despite the wind buffeting the scope, I managed to capture a few sharp photos that show some surface detail. In hindsight I should have used my larger 8” schmidt–cassegrain scope to bring out more surface detail and provide more stability, but I was quite suprised how much detail can be seen with such a small scope and a bit of processing in Adobe Lightroom.

Mercury Solar Transit 1
After 45 minutes into the transit, Mercury can be seen to the far left with a large group of sunspots visible towards the centre. (Click on the image to view full size photo).

Mercury is 36 million miles from the Sun and not much bigger than our moon, so looks tiny against the vastness of our star and is hard to distinguish from the nearby sunspots. It’s normally very faint and hard to see in the night sky as it’s always so close to the Sun. It doesn’t have much of an atmosphere and spins very slowly, so it’s surface temperature varies from 427°C in the day to -173°C at night, as it gets battered by solar radiation in the day and losses heat to space during the night. So it’s a fairly inhospitable lump of iron!

Mercury Solar Transit 2
Silhouette of Mercury and Sunspots magnified 2x using a Barlow Lens. At this magnification you can start to see some structure in the sunspots as magnetic fields inhibit thermal convection and result in reduced surface temperatures compared to the surrounding photosphere. These slighty cooler areas appear black compared to the rest of the Sun’s surface which is a barmy 5,500°C. (Click on the image to view full size photo).

Photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix G6 attached to a William Optics Megrez 72 Doublet APO refractor and a Baader Solar Filter covering the primary lens. The baader filter is quite fragile, but it comes with a box for protection when not in use. As usual with any solar observing, don’t under any circumstances look through the telescope at the Sun as it will cause permanent blindness in a fraction of a second should the filter fall off or get damaged. Instead, either project the light down onto a flat surface, or view it through a device with a digital display like I’ve done here. Alternatevely check out your local amateaur astronmy club as they may have a dedicated solar telescope which will show you much more surface detail.

Mercury Solar Transit 3
After 5 hours into the transit, Mercury can be seen towards the bottom of the image moving away from the Sunspots eventually back into the darkness of space after it’s 7.5 hour journey across the Sun. (Click on the image to view full size photo).