Science on the Rooftop!
Sixth Form physics students, plus pupils from our Astrophysics Society, use telescopes on top of the Queen Katharine Building to view a projected image of the Transit of Mercury.
Sixth Form physics students, plus pupils from our Astrophysics Society, used telescopes on top of the Queen Katharine Building to view a projected image of the Transit of Mercury this week. The Transit occurred between 12pm and 7pm on Monday 9 May, when the orbits of the Earth and Mercury aligned so that Mercury moved between the Earth and the Sun.
The Kimbolton Astrophysics Society (Astrophysoc) set up two telescopes on the roof of the QKB to enable small groups of pupils to view the projected image of the transit during lunchtime and after school. Solar filters were used because severe damage to the eye can be caused by looking directly at the sun.
Head of Physics Mr Cameron Holmes said: “The Transit of planets in front of stars is one of the methods that allows the detection of extra-solar planets (planets around stars other than the sun) by measuring the drop of light levels from the star as the planet moves in front.”
The event follows a recent Second Form trip to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, which included a planetarium tour narrated by Mr Tom Kerss, the astronomer who set up the main telescope at the Observatory to observe the Transit. See: Tom Kerss discusses the Transit of Mercury
Historical Astronomical Facts
- In 1661, Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens (best known for his study of Saturn’s rings) was in London, and observed a Transit of Mercury on 3 May, the day of King Charles II’s coronation. A few years later, the King, who had a keen interest in astronomy, established the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
- In 1677, Edmund Halley, who would later become Astronomer Royal in Greenwich, watched the Mercury transit of November 7 from St Helena. He realised that Transit observations would be instrumental in measuring the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
- Nearly a century later, during the 1769 Mercury Transit on November 9, English astronomer Charles Green accompanied James Cook to an excellent observing site now known as Mercury Bay in New Zealand. Green noticed that Mercury’s disk appeared very sharp in comparison to that of Venus, determining that it had little or no atmosphere (we now know the atmosphere is incredibly thin).