Science and Space Made Simple at the Mercury Transit

Transit of Mercury

CC-BY science made simple: The transit of Mercury event at the Open University

By Matthew Allen

On the 9th of May, 2016, a very special event occurred in our Solar System. The planet Mercury passed in between the Earth and the Sun, an event known as the Transit of Mercury. science and space made simple were at a transit event to make sure everyone was excited about it as we were!

The transit of Mercury happens around 13 times every 100 years. It is very similar to a Solar eclipse, where the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, but instead of the Moon, it is the planet Mercury that passes in between. As it passes across the face of the Sun, it appears as a dark spot, blocking some of the light from the Sun. However, it is is incredibly small compared to the size of the Sun, so you need a very good solar telescope to be able to see it.

The Open University, located in Milton Keynes in the UK, invited the public and school groups to come and watch the transit, as well as experience some amazing science busking and shows from science and space made simple. Our 3D show presenter Emma put on some amazing shows, taking the audience on an incredible trip though our Solar System, passing by some of the most dangerous planets and moons and even checking out how big some of the stars in our Universe can be!

Two keen school children checking out our Virtual Reality headsets.

CC-BY science made simple: Two keen school children checking out our Virtual Reality headsets.

Leanne was on hand to teach people how sound and space come together. She showed us how a theremin works (a rather weird but cool musical instrument!), how to make the sound of a blaster in Star Wars and taught us why in space, no one can hear you scream! Finally, our resident Virtual Reality expert Matthew was showing off a cool Virtual Reality app that you can use on your phone. The app transported the public up in to space, letting them see what the transit would look like if you were orbiting around Mercury and what the transit looked like outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Some local keen astronomers provided solar telescopes that allowed everyone to see the transit, with only a few small breaks where the typical British weather meant that clouds blocked the view. Overall, the event was a huge success, with two schools and over 300 people attending throughout the day.

If you missed this transit, the next one is in November 2019 and you can read our post on how to safely view the next transit of Mercury here!


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We are the space made simple team part of a social enterprise called science made simple who perform science, maths and engineering shows to schools, festivals and public audiences.

You can find out more about what we do, check out our exciting range of shows and workshops, or sign up to our newsletter to keep updated on what we are up to!
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