8 November: upcoming transit of Mercury

8 November is the second of the double transits of Mercury across the face of the Sun.

A transit can occur in May or November. November transits happen at intervals of 7, 13, or 33 years; May transits happen at intervals of 13 or 33 years. The last two transits were in 1999 and 2003. The next will occur 2016.

Here is a map for visibility. Try to find some way to see it.

In case you need to make future plans, here is a 7 century listing from AD 1601 to 2300.

This is a very cool event. After the last pair of transits, in 1882, the great bandmaster John Philip Sousa wrote a march in honor of occurence aptly, if not creativly, entitled "The Transit of Mercury". Listen to it here! It is quite jaunty.

The last time it happened it was visible in Rome in May of 2003. I was coming out of the Holy See Press Office and ran into various folks with their telescopes set up just outside. The police had driven them from St. Peter’s Square because tripods are not allowed. Anyway, they were letting anyone who walked by look through their telescopes as Mercury passed across the face of the Sun. The cops were there too, all too delighted to look, but just not from the square.

Among the group were a couple of Irish high school student at a Jesuit school who had the expensive hobby of eclipse chasing. Sunny Italy was considered a better bet than Ireland at that time of year, so they hopped on Ryan Air. They had a very nice set up and a big sign so people knew they could have a gander at the celestial event. I was amazed at the videos they showed me on a laptop of various eclipses they had seen including one over Antarctica from an airplane.

The Fathers and other great writers believed that God placed the heavenly spheres in the charge of angels to guide their movements. Since angels knew God’s will, some thought that by watching the heavens we too could decipher something of God’s will.

Anyway, the transits are very cool.  Sometimes they also coincide with other transits, with Venus, for example, but they are pretty rare.  Mercury and Venus will not transit at the same time until the year 69163 and then again in 224508.  As I said, pretty rare.  I don’t know what God has planned, but perhaps He’ll have a different setup for us by then.  The coincidence of a occurrence of a solar eclipse and a transit of Mercury will be on 5 July 6757.  Book your flight to Eastern Siberia, because that’s where it will be visible.

May we never tire of watching the signs of the times.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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5 Responses to 8 November: upcoming transit of Mercury

  1. Seamas O Dalaigh says:

    Father,

    I’ve never managed to understand why so many Americans are so fond of Souza. Anyway, happy stomping.

    James Daly

  2. fabrizio says:

    James,

    Souza was an immigrant. He wrote many tunes out of pure love for his adoptive land. It says a lot about the simple, almost naive and yet strong and sincere feelings of new Americans towards the Land of Opportunity (the seldom heard lyrics are telling). To the sons of recently immigrated families it chants the virtues of their fulfilled “best last hope”, to old Americans, it simply says “home”, “dad and I fishing when he was just back from Korea”, “the fireworks of the 4th of July”, “The turkey mom would cook for Thanksgiving”, things like that
    Try to be a midwestern boy watching his victorious dad back from some far-flung foreign country at the sound of “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and to be the father of one, and the grand-father of one, and the son of one and the grand-son of one, and you’ll understand why.

    Once I went to see the Space Shuttle being carried throughout Europe. It landed on its carrier at Ciampino Airport (Rome). There were American families – mostly military and embassy personnel, plus young students from American schools. And, of course, the band playing Souza. Well, it was combination of imagery and sounds making a mix that stirred emotions even among the rest of us Italians watching the scene and being there out of pure curiosity about what was then the latest big powerful “americanata”.

    “excudent alii spirantia mollius aera
    (credo equidem), uiuos ducent de marmore uultus,
    orabunt causas melius….”

    - “Other nations may deem their flags the best
    And cheer them with fervid elation,
    But the flag of the North and South and West
    Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.
    Hurrah for the flag of the free.
    May it wave as our standard forever
    The gem of the land and the sea,
    The banner of the right.
    Let despots remember the day
    When our fathers with mighty endeavor
    Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
    That by their might and by their right
    It waves forever. ”

    Not bad, not bad at all.

  3. Kent Wendler says:

    Fr. Z,

    Assuming you are in Rome I note that you won’t be able to see it directly. However there is apparently a live webcast originating from Kitt Peak Observatory at

    http://www.exploratorium.edu/transit/

  4. Séamas says:

    I would probably be allowed in the Square, then, since my telescope isn’t on a tripod. It’s a reflector on a Dobsonian base. :-)

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    Mercury and Venus will not transit at the same time until the year 69163 and then again in 224508. … I don’t know what God has planned, but perhaps He’ll have a different setup for us by then.

    Well (trying to get this thread back on track) I feel completely confident the universal indult (or motu proprio, whichever) will finally have been promulgated by then.