By Neal, Jen

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Mercury can also be seen as a small black spot moving across the Sun at intervals of seven, 13 and 33 years. This is known as a transit of Mercury across the Sun and occurs when the planet comes between the Earth and the Sun. Mercury has the shortest year of any planet at 88 Earth days. It also orbits around the Sun faster than any other planet, which is why it was named after the speedy Roman messenger god. Conversely, Mercury has the longest day of any planet due to its slow rotation. Because it revolves so quickly around the Sun, yet only rotates on its axis once every 59 Earth days, the time between sunrises on Mercury lasts 176 Earth days.

These T are not transits of other planets in our Solar System, but in other star systems. Astronomers detect transits of exoplanets across stars and have found over 1,000 alien worlds this way. As the stars are so far away, planet hunters like the Kepler space telescope can’t take a picture of the exoplanet’s silhouette like astronomers could for Venus. Instead they monitor how much of the starlight the planet blocks as it moves across the face of its star. Transit of Venus What are we seeing through the telescope?

Total solar eclipses are rare and in a way it is an incredible stroke of luck that we have them. The Sun’s distance from Earth just happens to be about 400 times the Moon’s distance from our planet. The Sun also happens to be about 400 times larger than the Moon, so thanks to this H 030 magic ratio they appear about the same size in the sky, meaning that during an eclipse the Moon can fit precisely over the Sun. We have to say ‘about’ a lot because Earth’s orbit and the Moon’s orbit are not circular but elliptical, meaning sometimes they can be a bit further away, or a bit nearer.

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