It might not be a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, but it’s close.
As the sun rises in Louisiana on Monday, the planet Mercury will start making its way across the face of the sun, a trip that will last more than seven hours.
“A transit is no more, no less than a small thing going in front of a big thing,” explained Christopher Kersey, manager of the Highland Road Park Observatory. In this case, Mercury will be traveling across the front of the sun as seen from parts of Earth.
The transit of Mercury happens 12 to 14 times every century. Because the transit might occur at night or during the day but skies are overcast, a person may get the opportunity to see the transit only two or three times.
The most recent transit was in 2006. The next will be Nov. 11, 2019, according to NASA.
The Highland Road Park Observatory will make at least six telescopes available for the public to view the transit from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.
“Many people have not even seen the sun through a telescope,” Kersey said. “It’s fascinating to see the clockwork of the solar system live and not on some video.”
Because of the tree line that surrounds the observatory, which helps cut down on light pollution during nighttime observations, viewing the transit won’t be possible until at least 45 minutes after the sun rises. Live feeds will be played in the observatory at that time.
Special precautions are needed to watch the transit because looking at the sun can cause permanent eye damage.
“Looking at the sun, it’s about the only dangerous thing you can do in astronomy as a hobby,” Kersey said.
In addition, unlike the transit of Venus several years ago, Mercury is too small to be able to see without at least 30x magnification.
Safe viewing will require a special solar viewing telescope or a telescope with a solar filter.
The transit of Mercury comes five days before the observatory holds the free 10th annual International Astronomy Day from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. May 14.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.