University Lowbrow Astronomers

Mercury Transits the Sun.

by Dave Snyder
Printed in Reflections:  December, 1999.

On November 15th, there was a transit of Mercury.  The Lowbrows [an amateur astronomy club based in Ann Arbor, Michigan] hadn’t planned a star party for the transit, but Jim Halk thought it would be a good idea if someone did.  Jim mentioned this to several of us.  Later John Causland organized a small star party to be held on the sidewalk near the corner of Ashley and Liberty [in Ann Arbor].  Only a handful of people knew about this event beforehand.  I knew there would be a transit, but I didn’t know about this event until on hour or so in advance.

I had arrived about 4 PM, and by this time a small group had gathered on Ashley.  John had already set up his 11” SCT.  We only had the one telescope.  At first we only observed sunspots, but at 4:15 Contact I occurred.  At this point Mercury looked like a tiny bite mark at the bottom of the Sun’s disk.  There was quite a bit of turbulence, but Mercury was visible.  Gradually Mercury moved further inward.  Contact II was about 4:30 at which point Mercury looked like a tiny block spot instead of a bite mark.

Because this was a grazing transit, Mercury stayed close to the edge of the Sun’s disk.  We took turns observing until about 5 PM when the bottom of the Sun’s disk (and therefore Mercury) disappeared behind some trees.

During the transit, several people walked by and wondered why we had a telescope set up on the sidewalk.  Anyone interested was given a chance to look through the scope.  A few people asked questions either about Mercury or the upcoming Leonid Meteor shower.  A large cardboard sign had been placed near the telescope that mentioned both the transit and the Leonids.  None of us had observed a Mercury transit before, so that made this event unique.  There were some clouds, but we were able to see most of the transit.

Lowbrows Will Work for Photons

Lowbrows Will Work for Photons:  A number of Lowbrows hosted a sidewalk star party downtown Ann Arbor on the late sunny November 15th afternoon to witness Mercury transit across the face of the Sun.  In the top row from left to right: Bernard Friberg, David Snyder, John Wallbank, and Jim Halk.  In the center: John Causland.  In the bottom row from left to right: Mark Deprest and Dick Sider.

Watching a Rare Transit of Mercury

John Causland (behind Bernard Friberg) lent his 11” Schmidt Cassigrain telescope (notice the full aperture solar filter) to witness a rare transit of Mercury across the Sun.

Explaining the Sun-Mercury Alignment

Lowbrow President Mark Deprest uses his head as a model to explain the Sun-Mercury line up to sidewalk passerby’s as Lowbrow Web Master Dave Snyder looks on.  The weather was clear on that November 15th as witnessed by the shadows on the wall.  Clear weather in November is about as rare as a transit of Mercury across the Sun.

Photographs taken November 15, 1999.  The photographers did not want a photo credit.


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