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AAAA News and Activities 2003

The Mars Year - 2003
Mars Day on TV - KTVT CBS Channel 11, Dallas
Welcome to Wired News
Wired News: Spending Green to See Red Planet
Annular Eclipse - May 31, 2003
Lunar Eclipse - May 15, 2003
Transit of Mercury - May 7, 2003
Mid-America Astrophysics Conference

Mars Hoax
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AAAA Members Observe
Transit of Mercury, May 7, 2003

Transit of Mercury Photos by Leo Andriao, Junior
Araraquara, Sao Paolo, Brazil

Click on images to enlarge.

I have sent my photos of the Transit of Mercury, taken from Araraquara, Sao Paolo, Brazil, on the morning of May 7, 2003. The small dot of the planet Mercury can be seen to the upper left in the first photo, but is not so clear in the other photos. The large dot near the center of the sun is a sunspot.

Leo Andriao, Junior, Brazil

It was very exciting to see the Mercury Transit. We projected the Sun on white plane cloth and paper. The big sun spot in the middle was also noticeable. Our program was organized at near GIDC  Awas, Sector No. 1 Plot No. 13, consisting of  Pomal, Anand Thacker, Navin Bapat, and Raysinhji Rathod. We  also did another thing. We were asking questions to new comers as to which is Mercury, and most of the people were pointing to the big sunspot! The photo is attached herewith. Mercury is the dot at the top of the photo, and the sunspot is near the center.

Narendra Gor, India

To see  images of the Transit of Mercury taken through GONG, a division of the National Solar Observatory, you can visit http://gong.nso.edu/mercury_transit03

Jackie Diehl
Administrative Assistant
National Solar Observatory
P.O. Box 62
Sunspot, NM 88349

Transit of Mercury
May 7, 2003

The Transit of Mercury on May 7, 2003, was seen in its entirety across Asia, Africa and Europe, and at its end at sunrise in easternmost North America and South America. Most of North America was not able to see this transit.

Transits of Mercury can occur only in the months of May and November, because, to be seen from Earth, it must be near one of the two nodes of its orbit. Nodes are the points where the planet crosses the plane of the Earth's orbit. If the time that Mercury crosses one of the node points coincides with a favorable position of Earth in its own orbit, we see a transit.

There are approximately 14 Transits of Mercury in a century. This transit is the first of the 21st Century.

Transits of Mercury
1937 11-May
1940 11-Nov
1953 14-Nov
1957 8-May
1960 7-Nov
1970 9-May
1973 10-Nov
1986 13-Nov
1993 6-Nov
1999 15-Nov
2003 7-May
2006 8-Nov
2016 9-May
2019 11-Nov
2032 13-Nov
2039 7-Nov
2049 7-May
2052 9-Nov
2062 10-May
2065 11-Nov
2078 14-Nov

Click HERE to see AAAA reports and photos from the Transit of Mercury on  November 15, 1999

A Press Release Regarding
The Transit of Mercury from NSO

National Solar Observatory Press Releases
Mercury Transit 2003

Contact: Dave Dooling
NationalSolar Observatory
P.O. Box 62
Sunspot, NM 88349

Modern solar telescope network's view of Mercury passage will help students use web to recall historical era.

A global network of telescopes designed to watch the Sun's atmosphere pulsate will be pressed into service on May 7 to help students recreate early measurements of our solar system.

The telescopes will record the transit of Mercury as it crosses in front of the Sun. Transits once were the most valued of astronomical events, a rare chance for astronomers to size up the solar system. Today it is an opportunity to involve science teachers and students in studying both the Sun and mathematics.

The observations will be made by the National Solar Observatory's Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG) telescopes located in Australia, India, and the Canary Islands.

"We were approached by a French colleague, Professor Michele Gerbaldi of the Institut d'Astrophysique in Paris, Maitre de Conferences at the University of Paris-Sud, Orsay," explained Dr. Cliff Toner, the GONG scientist who is spearheading the transit observations. "She wanted to redo the work of a French expedition in the late 18th century to measure the scale of the solar system with modern data of the transit of Venus, observable next year, the one of Mercury this year being used as preliminary just as it has been the case in the 18th century. It has tremendous historical value, and it is awesome what those people were able to accomplish."

Transits occur when Mercury or Venus passes between Earth and Sun. The timing is complex and depends on the relative motions of Earth and the other planet. Mercury transits in May at intervals of 13 and 33 years, and in November at intervals of 7, 13 and 33 years. GONG observed the last transit of Mercury on Nov. 15, 1999. Venus is less frequent, only six times in the last four centuries. The last was 1882; the next will be very soon, on June 8, 2004.

In the 17th century, pioneering work by Jeremiah Horrocks (an English astronomer) and James Gregory (a Scottish astronomer) demonstrated that the transits could be used to determine the Earth-Sun distance. In 1716 Sir Edmund Halley published "A new Method of determining the Parallax of the Sun, or his Distance from the Earth" by using many observational stations spread over the world. But Halley's own expedition to the South Atlantic in 1677 to observe the transit of Mercury came to naught when bad weather in England deprived him of the other half of the observations.

Several nations mounted expeditions in 1761 and 1769 to observe the transits of Venus and produced measures of the Earth-Sun distance. Using those data, Joseph Jerôme Lalande of France in 1771 calculated the Earth-Sun distance at 153 million km (95 million miles), just 3.4 million km (2 million miles) off the correct number, 149,597,871 km (92,750,680 miles). Today, radar ranging to the planets and tracking of deep space probes have relegated transits to reminders of the pioneering days of astronomy.

But GONG's constant watch on the Sun means that we don't have to mount a special expedition. Three GONG stations will see the 5-hour, 19-minute transit. It starts at 05:12:56 Universal Time (12:13 a.m. EDT) when Mercury's limb appears to touch the Sun's limb, and ends at 10:31:46 UT (5:13 a.m. EDT) when Mercury clears the Sun. Teide will see the first 3-1/2 hours (from sunrise), Udaipur, India will see the entire transit, and Learmonth, Western Australia, will see the last 3-1/2 hours (to sunset). Learmonth and Teide will overlap each other by almost 2 hours. So while the transit will occur entirely at night for half the world, people anywhere should be able to see it.

CAUTION: It is exceptionally dangerous to view the Sun without the right equipment. Blindness or painful, permanent eye damage will result.

"While we don't expect the size of the Universe to change as a result of these measurements" said Dr. John Leibacher, the GONG program director in Tucson, AZ, "it is an exciting spectacle to watch, and it is of important practical use to us in establishing the precise orientation of the images taken with different GONG telescopes around the world."

GONG was designed to measure the pulsations of the visible surface of the Sun's atmosphere as it rings like a bell with millions of different harmonic notes. These vibrations are our only way of probing the Sun's interior, just as earthquakes probe Earth's interior. Six identical GONG stations around the globe monitor the Sun full time: Big Bear Solar Observatory, Big Bear Lake, Calif.; Learmonth Solar Observatory, Australia; Udaipur Solar Observatory, India; Observatorio del Teide, Canary Islands; Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, Chile; and Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Thus, the Sun never sets on GONG, making it uniquely suited to catching a transit whenever it may occur.

Leibacher explained that software has been developed for the GONG network computers to extract one image every 15 minutes from each site as Mercury crosses the Sun and post the image in near real-time on the GONG web site. Only 25 or so images will be posted for this quick-look, stop-motion movie of the transit. Toner cautioned that the real-time connection with Udaipur is new and may experience some interruptions. The connections with Learmonth and Tiede, though are working well and the overlap between the two will ensure continuous coverage.

Over the next two months, as data tapes arrive from the GONG sites, the GONG team will prepare an education CD-ROM with raw transit images taken every minute for a total of more than 300 images.

"We'll provide the raw data from the white-light images, so the students can learn what is the triangulation method and how to measure the Earth-Sun distance from planetary transits and be prepared for the transit of Venus, next year which is the one allowing a measure of the astronomical unit," Toner explained. Reproducing the timing aspect of the early experiments may not be possible because each image will have an integration time of one minute, too long for making precise contact measurements. The CD-ROM will include instructions on how to use the images and data.

"This is the first time that we have tried something like this, so everyone here is pretty excited," said Leibacher, "and it's just a warm-up for the transit of Venus next year."

GONG is operated by the National Solar Observatory under contract to the National Science Foundation.

For additional information on GONG and the 2003 transit of Mercury, visit: http://gong.nso.edu/mercury_transit03. For a larger image of the 1999 transit, visit the NOAO Image Gallery. [

Editor's note: Historical and technical information on transits is drawn from the transit pages maintained by Fred Espanak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center: http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/OH/transit03.html.

Halley's paper on determining the Earth-Sun distance is republished at http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/transit/HalleyParallax.html.  

Dave Dooling and Ruth A. Kneale
05/06/2003 15:12:03

The National Solar Observatory is sponsored and supported by the National Science Foundation.

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