news 24-April-2018 10:30:08

Transit of Mercury schools challenge

05 April 2016

ESA invites European schools to join together to observe the transit of Mercury taking place on Monday 9 May 2016. Schools are challenged to observe the transit and to recreate the measurements made by astronomers around 300 years ago in order to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Mercury globe. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

A transit occurs when a one celestial object passes in front of another. From our viewpoint on Earth, it can only be the two innermost planets in the Solar System, Mercury and Venus that transit the disc of the Sun.

A transit of Mercury is a relatively rare event happening only 13 or 14 times each century. Mercury actually passes between the Earth and Sun at least three times a year, however since its orbit is inclined with respect to the plane of the Solar System, it usually appears to pass above or below the Sun to an observer on Earth.

During a transit, Mercury appears as a small black dot moving across the disc of the Sun.

On 9 May 2016, from 11:12 until 18:42 UT, an entire transit of Mercury will be visible from western Europe. Find out if you can enjoy this event from your location, here.

Your challenge

Your challenge ESA invites European schools to observe the transit of Mercury (either the entire or partial transit) and to measure the times that the edge of the disc of Mercury makes contact with the edge of the disc of the Sun.

To be able to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun from the transit you will need a second set of data from a different location, ideally as far away as possible. Therefore, we would like you to send your data to us so that it can be made available to everyone participating.

Transit telescope example set up. Credit: ESA.

Send your data to share here.

Data from all participants and other transit of Mercury observers will be available here.

There are many different ways to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun using a transit. Find out more here.

Once you have calculated the distance between the Earth and the Sun Earth-Sun from your measurements, you can submit a short report of your transit of Mercury experience to be published on the ESA website, and be in with a chance of winning a prize. Your report should include a brief description of your observing event with a picture, and your calculations as well as your result.

Deadline for submission of reports extended to Monday 6 June 2016.

Submit a report of your transit of Mercury experience here.

Even if you are not able to make your own observations you can still submit a report and calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun using the measurements that will be published online.

Proba-2's ringside seat for the transit of Venus 2012. Credit: ESA.

If you are observing the event please remember to NEVER look at the Sun with unprotected eyes, through ordinary sunglasses or through a telescope, as this might cause permanent damage to your eyes.

Prizes

All groups that enter a short report including a description, photo, calculations and result will receive a certificate of participation and be entered into a draw with a chance to receive one of five ESA goodie bags. Furthermore, the first entry to be drawn at random will receive a videoconference with ESA scientists.

 

Who can participate?

The transit of Mercury challenge is recommended for schools and groups of young people in secondary level education.

Schools and groups of young people in primary level education are also welcome to participate and are encourage to get engaged with the transit of Mercury.

Visit this page again closer to the time of the transit for updates and further information.

For further information, please contact

Rebecca Barnes
Communications, Outreach and Education Group
Directorate of Science, ESA

Email: Rebecca.barnes@esa.int

 


Last Update: 15 August 2017

For further information please contact: SciTech.editorial@esa.int

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