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The transit of Mercury starts at 7:35 am ET and will last for 5.5 hours (nasa.gov)
170 points by bharatsb 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments



Interesting to think about where we'll be when this happens again in 2049.

It's a difference of only 30 years. 30 years ago was 1989. Yet life today compared to then is simply alien - technology has impacted the way everyone and every thing exists.

The first self-powered flight was in 1903. Man landed on the Moon just 66 years later. In one lifetime you went from being perpetually constrained to the surface to literally flying above the sky, transcending all known heights, and you wouldn't even have retired yet.

SpaceX was started in 2002, a mere 17 years ago. It is now, on this very day, on the verge of delivering hardware that can send people to Mars.

In 30 years from now, if the optimists are correct, we'll be living on the Moon and probably Mars. If the optimists are correct, we'll be able to take a shuttle from Mars to Mercury itself by the time this event happens again.

The optimists are probably wrong. But it doesn't hurt to dream.


I remember a world without the internet, without personal computers, without ATM machines. I am a member of the last generation (until the apocalypse) who will know what life was like without these things. Traveling was more of an adventure back then because you were pretty much cut off from home. Nowadays, being away is not so different from being at home.

We may be living on the moon in 2049. Whether that represents a net improvement in the human condition is another matter altogether.


I remember black and white television, and CRT TV screens which shrunk and faded to little dots when shut off. I remember having one telephone in the house. I remember not having a computer in the house, then getting one (Sinclair ZX81). I too remember life before ATMs.

In all these cases, I was a kid - these memories are all from maybe the age of 3-4 through early teens. I never navigated adult life without understanding computers, although early adult life was without cell phone, without internet access, without email, etc.

What I do remember is watching people adjust to these things. They were a novelty, and in many cases, became expected/required for 'modern life'. I was an early adopter, so even watching people my own age was interesting because I could see people struggle with some tech or even concepts, and hearing peoples' descriptions of technology changes has been interesting (often based on rumor or just wrong).

re: being 'away' from home - in elementary school, we had a multi-week project to "plan a trip" - learning about maps, travel distance, budgeting for hotels, food, etc. We had to write away to AAA for maps and info, then plan out where we'd drive, where gas stations were, etc. That was a class project. Today, you literally get in a car and talk to a device (or the car) and say "give me directions to ...." some place halfway across the country, and you'll get accurate turn by turn directions, with live traffic updates, and you can find food/gas/shelter all while driving. Insane to think of those changes, but it's just 'normal' to my younger family.


I remember all of these things, too. I also remember trying to explain to my great grandmother, who was born in the 19th century, how it was that my brother and I were able to control what was happening on the TV screen.

And that's all I'm going to reflect on for now, lest I become tempted to burn a week's worth of evenings reading Ray Kurzweil.


You definitely tended to plan trips, and activities generally, more. It's probably one reason I tend to be more structured around travel than a lot of people I know.

That said, some of it is just doing more self-service planning. We used to use travel agents more--I still use specialized services for some things. And we'd just ask the hotel concierge to arrange a dinner rather than go on Trip Advisor and book a reservation online.


Well I had this kind of travel (no phone, no credit card just some cash and 1200 page lonely planet india book) in 2008 and 2010. Heck, 2 years ago I could still have the same when hiking through everest region, if i didn't pay for their wifi internet.

Its still out there if you accept taking a modest comfort hit. Just one tip - bring more cash than you expect, even with reserve


Sure, it's still possible to get away from civilization, but those opportunities are becoming more and more rare (and require more and more acceptance of physical discomfort and risks to your health). But before the internet, all travel was like that. If you left home you had no choice but to leave access to some important support structures in your life behind, and that gave travel a fundamentally different character than it has today.

Living on the moon may similarly lose a lot of its charm once it becomes routine.


Why not just turn off your phone while traveling, or leave it at home?


I'm not sure it's so much about communicating back home; I don't really stay in close touch with friends/family when I'm traveling.

(Business is a different matter. I can far better continue to work today as usual even if I'm on the other side of the planet than I could have in the next city a few decades ago.)

It's more that apps (maps, airlines, tripadvisor, restaurant/hotel sites, etc.) have really transformed travel to many places in a huge number of ways over just about the past 10 years. I can't say I would really give that up very willingly.

[Added: Though, if I'm being honest, I'd admit that expectations about being able to be reached and to reach others have shifted. When cell phones started to become popular, I sort of disliked how a lot of people increasingly assumed you could always call for help in an emergency. Today, if I were going to be in a remote area for an extended period by myself, I'd probably find it hard to justify not having a satellite messaging system.]


On my first trip to Europe I drove from Paris to Nice, stopping over in Epinal. We didn't have a GPS device and our phones didn't work. We did have some printed out directions from MapQuest IIRC. We still talk about that adventure today, "after the 13th roundabout take the second exit". Was this 12 or 13?


> directions from MapQuest

Heh. When I was traveling in Europe in the mid-80s we had to use actual maps. :-)


Great point. We also had a map, which ended up being crucial.

Contrast my experience with those of younger friends I have traveled with who will spent an hour on TripAdvisor prior to walking inside a restaurant :(


While I am not so old I remember a time before dialup, I definitely remember travelling without basically all the things that you mention here. To me, the more things have been said to change, the more they are exactly the same. Consider that perhaps a perceived difference lies mostly in the eye of the beholder.


No, things really are different now. Travel is much easier. I think it's arguable whether or not that makes it better. It certainly seems better in the moment if you don't have to worry about, say, running out of cash or finding a place to sleep. But in hindsight, a big part of the benefit of travel in the old days (IMHO) was that it forced you to get out of your comfort zone and face challenges that you otherwise would not have faced. For me, travel is (or at least should be) about more than just getting a selfie in front of the Eiffel tower.

Bringing this back to the OP, we may discover that a big part of the charm of living on the moon is in our imagination. Once we actually making living on the moon routine we'll discover that it's actually not such a nice place to be. It's dusty. It's all the same shade of grey. The weather sucks. The best we can hope for is to turn the moon into another Las Vegas or Dubai, which are also dusty drab places with crappy weather. But once we do that, what will we really have gained? You might as well just stay in Vegas. It's cheaper.


Traveling with a smartphone can also have the opposite effect. It makes us overconfident. On my honeymoon a few years back, we used Google Maps to take a scenic route [1]. Google Maps gave an ETA of 2 hours and a sign said it required a 4x4 vehicle but wasn't too worried because I had a Jeep 4x4 rental car. Long story short - it took 5.5 hours, required rock climbing and driving through mud pits deeper than the vehicle all without cell service and no humans in sight.

[1] https://www.dangerousroads.org/north-america/usa/7300-mana-r...


I moved to Germany from the US, and I’d say that traveling is still very different from being at home in 2019.

With regard to connection reducing the adventure when traveling, how connected you are at any time can be a choice. Sure, back in the day you had no life line. But to me it’s a bit like free solo climbing (no ropes) vs lead climbing. Free solo is max adventure but the consequences are higher. It’s your choice in what you want the challenge to be. But if you really only care about challenging yourself on the climb itself and you don’t fall in either, was there really much of a difference? Having the safety net let’s you push harder and avoid being too conservative


While you are not wrong, there is a big difference between choosing not to use something, vs not having the option to. You can get much more peace of mind in the latter, even thought the situation is the same.


I don’t think the parent comment was saying that having a safety net is bad, just that it is different.

And having a safety net definitely changes the dynamic of travel. I can’t imagine not having my phone with me, especially on a journey. And that’s not bad.

I think we have collectively, unwittingly entered a transhuman state. Our phones are as much a part of us as anything else.


For me, and maybe it's because I did so much travel pre-smartphone and then pre-international data, it's not so much about the lifeline/safety net.

It's more about the ready availability of information--which is more or less important (and available online) depending upon where you are. Trekking in Nepal I'm guessing things aren't as different from 20 years ago as they would be in a random Asian capital where I find having a smartphone makes getting around easier/better compared to even 5 years ago.


I remember being bored. Fondly in hindsight.


Before the Internet, I always had a nice backlog of books to read.

And I also remember those times quite fondly.


Maybe it's worth it to do a experiment, by leaving a day and doing precisely nothing -- not allowing phone/internet at all. I'm not sure if I'll think fondly of that years down the line but I may be wrong.


The next transit is in 2032 though. The next transit that will be visible from the US will be in 2049.

13 years is long, but it's not as long as 30 years you specified.


30 years from now we could be looking back at 2019 fondly. By 2048 it is estimated at the current consumption levels salt water fish could be nearly extinct, for example. We could also be dealing with twenty days of lethal heat per year and one billion people displaced due to climate change.


In the 30 years between 1969 and 1999, manned space travel didn't really make any progress. Technological progress generally follows an S shaped curve. It's only interesting in the neck. Computers have already leveled off in terms of Moore's Law.


It may happen, certainly will happen eventually, but every generation for the last 60 years has said the same (eg Space 1999, 2001 Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, etc) and as we inch ever closer we realise we are even further away than we first estimated. I guess it’s a bit like the Dunning-Kruger effect.

That all said, the advent of the the web and “smart” devices have changed the world more significantly and in a shorter space of time than any other technological leap in human history. It’s been exciting working through that revolution.


I almost forgot about space 1999.


Prediction: When we watch the transit of Earth from Mars, it will be remotely--there just isn't much advantage to humans physically living on Mars. We can see/understand what's going on, without pointless expense, tragedies, and indignities that would go with human presence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_of_Earth_from_Mars


Depends on whether one's priorities lie in being comfortable or maximizing the chance of surviving as a species.


We can't even repair shit on the ISS with robots. I don't rate our chances to do arbitrary repair work.


Looks like the next one is in 2084. Assuming humans are still around, we should at least have put a few on Mars by then, but establishing an enduring colony is a much harder problem than sending someone for a Kodak moment.


  12:35Z : Starts
  15:20Z : Mid-point
  18:04Z : Ends
Gutted to be missing this ... it's been in my diary for years.


Live stream from Roque de los Muchachos observatory in La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kr-8ESM-8M


2,400 m above sea level


Link from TFA with (near?) live images from the SDO-

https://mercurytransit.gsfc.nasa.gov/2019/

edit: or just go to the main SDO data page- https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/


Here's a list of past/future times for this transit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_of_Mercury#Past_and_fu...

It looks like the next one visible from anywhere (but presumably not in the US) will be in 2032


For the last transit of Venus I rigged up a pair of binoculars to project one sight onto some posterboard a few feet away for the entire duration. It was great, Venus was about the size of a dime on the image.

That was with a crappy old pair of binoculars I didn’t care about one way or another. Now I have a nice pair, do I risk damaging them by doing this?


Make a couple of cardboard disks that cover the front lens with smaller circular cutouts, effectively reducing the diameter of the front elements. If you make the holes say half the radius, you'll reduce the light by a factor of 4 (telescopes often comes with a front lens cover that have this sort of arrangement built in, either for solar projection or for observing the mount).

Shouldn't need to say it here, but never, ever, look at the sun through binoculars or a telescope (even with filters or reducers). You won't get a second chance.

[edit] Here's a pic from the 2003 transit, taken by projecting an image of the sun onto an A4 sheet of paper, using a 90mm refractor stopped down to about 25mm (Mercury at mid-upper left, the lower blob is a sunspot).

http://hazeii.net/images/mercury_transit_2003.jpg


Also same goes for non-Mirrorless Cameras as well!


> Shouldn't need to say it here, but never, ever, look at the sun through binoculars or a telescope (even with filters or reducers). You won't get a second chance.

i was considering this one:

https://www.celestron.com/products/eclipsmart-solar-filter-6...

bad idea?


From a reputable company (like Celestron) it ought to be ok. However, if anything goes wrong (filter burns through, cracks, drops out) the damage will will likely be irreversible. Think of it as the risk of standing at the wrong end of a loaded gun.

Even if you avoid looking directly at the sun, it's possible to make mistakes. On a transit of Venus I was having trouble getting a telescope lined up, so without thinking I bent down to have a look through it to see where the sun was. Luckily the resultant burn made me whip my head back before my eye got to the eyepiece.


Proper sun filters are fine and the best way to view the eclipse. They better be real and not knock-off, though!


Yes. You risk overheating the adhesive that bonds the glass components internally, unless you use a solar filter on the front (sun end) of one tube of the binoculars, and complelely cap the other tube with its lens cap.

My advice is to skip the binoculars. Instead use a simple magnifying glass like you can buy at an office supply store -- a round one, not a square one -- and a piece of poster board just like you did last time. It will work fine. The image will be upside down but who cares?

If you can't get a magnifying glass, use a second piece of poster board and put a whole in the middle with a pin, or tack. The image on the other poster board will be very dim but almost as good.


I did the same with an old clearance aisle 6” reflector scope. I was with my kids and explaining something to them when i caught a whiff if melting plastic.

Definitely potential for damage, esp with all of the elements in binocs.


Just yesterday I was looking for ephemerides, and found JPL's Horizon, which you can access with telnet:

telnet horizons.jpl.nasa.gov 6775

You can type names, to get numbers (mercury is 1).


Weird how the top of this page says the transit is on November 11th, but the side bar and main description section have it as November 12th. From the site rococode linked to, it is November 11, but it is a bit strange for NASA to have this wrong and inconsistent on its site. I hope to get a look tomorrow if the sky is clear.


Figures, there's a giant snow storm passing through the Northeast today :(


Northeast what? Sunny where I am.


United States


What effect will this event have on my mood, plans, and chance of success?


And the SpaceX Starlink launch happens 2 hours later at 9:35AM ET. An interesting astrophotography opportunity to get a picture of both Mercury and a zillion little satellites transiting the Sun.



Will a welding mask work?


If it's around #15 or greater, but unlike the eclipse you won't be able to see anything interesting with just the welding mask. Mercury is too small. You need magnification, but if you use binoculars and you put the welding mask between the binocs and your eyes you will permanently damage your eyes and the binocs.

Make a pinhole in a playing card and put a large piece of white cardboard a meter behind it. This will work well. It will be dim so you might need to arrange a large sheet of poster board around the playing card for shade.


Just look for any local astronomy groups doing public viewing event. Even the medium-size cities have such gatherings.


https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/iso-certification says "The only ones that are safe for direct viewing of the Sun with your eyes are those of Shade 12 or higher."

(which are rare because they're too dark for most welding)

Other sources said 13 was the minimum. You're probably best off with a 13 or 14. I found 13 too bright.


That's what I used for the transit of Venus, along with some binoculars. Make sure the glass is dark enough of course.


Please note that the welding mask needs to be put between the sun and the binoculars, not between the binoculars and the eyes. Otherwise, so much light from the sun will be focused by the binoculars that the welding mask will not be nearly enough to counteract it, and severe eye damage is pretty much a certainty.

Also, note that many astronomers will say that only filters that are rated for solar use should be used, which a welding mask is not. So do this at your own risk.


Welding masks may not be rated for solar, but given that they block out the insane amount of UVA-UVB generated by welding, and our atmosphere totally kills UVC, you're good to go as long as you aren't relying upon the auto-darkening ones.


you need a high shade, at least 14.

just get a stack of neutral density filters, and some IR/UV block filters, and use a camera... you'll need magnification anyway.


You're reminding me of reports that people had returned very expensive rented telephoto lenses destroyed by sunlight after the last total lunar eclipse.


Those people suck, frankly. I own very expensive lenses, and equipment.

I speak from experience. I was a professional photographer many years ago, though it's only a hobby these days.

I filmed the crescendo of the 2017 solar eclipse and took photos throughout with a stack of IR/UV/ND filters: https://photos.app.goo.gl/CV9Ju3TkMtJKNL566

I had to remove most of the ND filters during totality because it was simply blocking too much light, so much so that clouds and stars are visible in some photos. I had >99% IR/UV cut and over 26 stops of wide-band light reduction in front of my lens. My equipment is fine, I assure you.

Due diligence isn't hard; I looked up the spec sheets for every filter I purchased, and did the actual math, so much so that I had to remove a filter or two during totality to get the exposure that I wanted, because I was overly conservative to protect my equipment.

But... yeah... though there were many people who destroyed equipment during the 2017 eclipse, that doesn't mean it can't be done safely and properly.


thanks, chicago, for your near-permanent overcasts :(

don't have a solar filter for my 6SE anyways, but got some excellent saturn and jupiter seeing this summer :)




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