Excitement as Mercury passes in front of Sun today, Monday, November 11


Mini Mercury skipped across the vast, glaring face of the sun Monday in a rare celestial transit.

Professor Mike Cruise, president of the UK's Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), said: "This is a rare event, and we'll have to wait 13 years until it happens again".

Mercury's transit will be visible across Africa, weather permitting.

More details on the viewing event are available here.

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Since the orbits of Mercury and Venus are located between the sun and earth's orbit, it makes it possible for the two planets to transit in front of the sun. And in the case of Mercury, it occurs only about 13 times per century.

As always, it's not safe to stare at the sun with the naked eye, though it won't be visible anyway, without a telescope or binoculars fit with solar filters. Thirdly, Mercury starts to cross over the edge of the sun's disk that is at the near end of the transit. Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system and very close to the earth.

Scientists have been using transits for hundreds of years to study the way planets and stars move in space.

"Edmund Halley used a transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769 to determine the absolute distance to the Sun". Periodic, fleeting dips of starlight indicate an orbiting planet.

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Planetary transits also provide astronomers with enough information to determine a planet's size and how far away they are from their host stars. Never look at the Sun directly or through a telescope without proper protection. Doing so will harm your vision, and you won't be able to see Mercury anyway with your naked eyes, even with eclipse glasses - it's just too small.

Look at little Mercury go!

The transit began at 12:35 GMT, when the edge of Mercury appeared to touch the edge of the Sun.

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