The Mercury Transit of the Sun May 9, 2016

On May 9, 2016 the Planet Mercury transited the face of the Sun. This is a relatively rare event, occurring on average only thirteen times per century.

I had planned to do a public outreach at the Century Village at Cabrillo in Long Beach, California. This is a community of retired and recently separated military veterans that is located in west Long Beach, 60 miles to the southwest.

However, the weather forecast for the Los Angeles basin called for overcast skies. So I made a decision the evening before to travel 59 miles north up Interstate 15 highway over the San Gabriel Mountains to the high desert town of Victorville, California. It was the closest city which had a clear sky weather forecast. I had researched venues in that town the night before and decided to set up at the Victorville City Library. I left Covina at 4:30 a.m. and made it to Victorville by 5:45 a.m. I had all of my equipment out of the truck and set up by sunrise.
I used my ten inch fork mounted Schmidt Cassegrain  LX250 GPS Meade telescope with a vintage Coronado Helios H-alpha solar telescope mounted piggyback. I set up the telescope so the the entire disk of the Sun was visible. Magnifying to show only a part of the Sun is too confusing for laypeople.

Since the Library did not open until 9:00 a.m., I had time to take a few photographs of Mercury in mid transit before the public showed up.

The first people who came were the library employees. I explained to the head librarian who I was and who I represented (The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project), and I was there to let the public view the transit. She was happy to see what I had done and when she went in to the library to her desk she got onto the Library’s Facebook page and made a posting to alert library patrons about the event. She also alerted the other city offices and the local elementary school. Unfortunately the school could not organize a field trip on such short notice. But a few people came to the library after seeing the Facebook posting.

Alex the front desk girl…

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Alex, library employee views the Mercury Transit of the Sun on May 9, 2016 at the Victorville California Library

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Alex, the Front Desk Girl, views the Mercury Transit of the Sun on May 9, 2016 at the Victorville California Library

By the time it was over, 37 people witnessed the transit through my telescopes. Since there were no long lines of people, I allowed each viewer the opportunity to take their own photographs of the transit by placing their cell phones against the rubber eyecup of my 2 inch barrel ultrawide 40mm eyepiece. My ten inch SCT telescope has a solar filter aperture mask on the front. Many of the viewers got excellent photographs of the transit in both white light and in H-alpha.

The viewers were library employees, city employees, and library patrons. I was gratified to see two whole families show up with their children. One young man fresh out of high school showed up and told me he was an amateur astronomer. We had time to discuss his aspiration to get a larger telescope to replace his 5 inch Orion Maksutov, and I advised him of local dealers in the Los Angeles Basin and also about used telescope listings on

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Ruben and Roland, City of Victorville employees, view and photograph the Mercury Transit of the Sun at the Victorville California Library May 9, 2016

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Every person that attended got a free pair of Charlie Bates Solar Eclipse Glasses. In addition I donated a nickel iron meteorite to the head librarian to use in educational programs.

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I began packing up at 1:00 p.m. and pulled out of the library parking lot at 2:15, after drinking about half a gallon of water after enduring the full solar flux at 2,726 ft (831 m) elevation for 8 hours. I was  very thirsty…

Then the drive back over the mountains to Covina…


~ by matthewota on May 11, 2016.

One Response to “The Mercury Transit of the Sun May 9, 2016”

  1. Pretty neat how you had glasses for everyone. Your scope arrangement was superb. Great article. Thank you for sharing.

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