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Queen’s invites stargazers to watch Mercury move across the Sun

5/05/2016


Queen’s University’s astronomers are giving the public a rare opportunity to watch Mercury travel across the face of the Sun on Monday, 9 May.

At 12:15pm on Monday, Mercury will pass in front of the sun for the first time in almost a decade, but the rare event can only be viewed safely using special telescopes.

Experts from Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre, together with the Irish Astronomical Association, are offering observers the chance to use such telescopes at the front of the University’s landmark Lanyon Building from 12.00-19.30 on Monday. If the weather is overcast, Mercury’s journey across the sun will be live streamed, with links available from https://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/

Professor Stephen Smartt, said: “At 12:15 on Monday, Mercury will pass in front of the sun for the first time in almost a decade. Venus and Mercury are the only planets between us and the sun, meaning they are the only two we have the chance of seeing in transit.

“Transits don’t happen every time a passing planet orbits the sun.  We need the planet to be between earth and the Sun and also pass through the earth’s orbital plane. Therefore, this is a rare event, and it can only be viewed safely using a special telescope – ten of which will be available for the public to use at Queen’s on Monday. I would encourage anyone with an interest in star gazing to come along to get a close-up view of Mercury on move at 48 million miles away.”

Later in the evening, Professor Patrick Brady from the Center for Gravitation, Cosmology & Astrophysics, University of Wisconsin, will deliver a free public lecture on gravitational waves.

Variations in the orbit of Mercury and the existence of gravitational waves were both predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity one hundred years ago. Gravitational waves were recently detected by an international team of scientists, including Professor Brady. Now scientists at Queen’s are leading the way in the hunt for the exact source of these gravitational waves.

The latest observation marked the end of a century-long quest to understand and measure Einstein's gravitational waves. It also marked the birth of gravitational-wave astronomy - a whole new way to observe the Universe. 
Queen’s have been partners in the Pan-STARRS project since 2008 and together with NASA, the University of Hawaii and Harvard University they are using this powerful telescope system to survey the sky to find what causes gravitational waves in the Universe.

Professor Brady’s lecture, ‘Einstein’s Gravity: From the transit of Mercury to the detection of gravitational waves’, will take place at 8pm on Monday, 9 May in the Larmor Lecture Theatre at Queen’s (beside the Whitla Hall / South Dining Hall on the main campus). The event is free but registration is essential. Registration can be completed online at https://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php/public/outreach/start

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Media inquiries to Michelle Cassidy (Thu-Fri) or Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) at Queen’s University Communications Office T; +44 (0)28 9097 5310 E: comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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