By John Lindblad
Mercury transits the Sun, Northern Taurids and a busy Moon
The Moon passes within 0.25 degree south of Uranus’s location in the sky. The closest approach occurs at about 11:10 p.m. (EST). Uranus is just magnitude +5.7, so a telescope best shows the distant ice giant. Try taking off from the Moon’s northern limb, slowly raising your scope until the planet’s small disc comes into your scope’s field of view.
Warning: Do not, under any circumstances, look at the Sun with unprotected eyes.
Mercury will be at inferior conjunction today, when the little planet lies between us and the Sun. Beginning at 7:36 a.m. (EST), Mercury also begins a transit directly across the solar disc. At some 90 million kilometres distant, the innermost planet will present as a tiny black dot in silhouette against the Sun. This is NOT a naked-eye event. Special precautions will be needed to view this event safely. The safest way to see Mercury’s transit is to watch a live stream online. Local astronomy clubs may also have experts who can provide safely filtered or projected telescopic views of the transit.
This event takes place on Remembrance Day, the day we honour Canada’s veterans. Transits of Mercury took place, too, during both World Wars on November 17, 1914, and November 11, 1940.
While Mercury is in transit, imagine the view from the planet’s midnight side. In the airless black sky, you’d see a bright, bluish-white point with a dimmer speck just above it. These are Earth and the Moon shining at -4 and +0.4 in the constellation Aries and at opposition with Mercury. Consider, too, that on November 10, 2084, visitors to Mars will see Earth and the Moon transit the solar disc. Even at the red planet’s distance from the Sun, though, they’ll need significant precautions to watch the event safely.
The sparse Northern Taurids meteor shower can produce bright, slow-moving fireballs, so this meteoric debris from Comet Encke’s trail in space is worth a look despite the midnight Full Moon. Be sure to scan all around the sky to catch bright meteors and smoke trails far from the shower’s radiant in the constellation Taurus. Expect 5 meteors per hour.
The constellation Taurus puts on another show for tonight: the Moon lies 3° above bright orange Aldebaran and just east of the Hyades star cluster.
Another rocky solar system body passes between us and a star! For observers in eastern Canada, the Moon occults Mu Geminorum, a 3rd-magnitude red giant in the constellation Gemini. Low-power binoculars will be helpful to watch the star reappear from the Moon’s shadowed side.
The exact timing of the event depends on your time zone. In Halifax, for example, the star will reappear from behind the dark limb of the Moon at 9:32 p.m. (AST). Montreal observers will see Mu Gem reappear at 8:29 p.m. (EST), while those in Toronto see the event at 8:26 p.m.
Western Canada will see a similar event in December, so look for an update here!