Transit of Mercury

At the Exploratorium and in Second Life

On November 8, 2006 there was a transit of Mercury across the face of the sun.

The Exploratorium streamed live images of the transit over the web using a 16 inch telescope at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at Kitt Peak Arizona. We also showed images taken through a hydrogen alpha filter (red) and a calcium K line (blue) filter.

Together with Robyn Higdon I presented the webcast at the beginning of the transit that introduced people to Mercury and the transit.

Then Ron Hipschman took over and together with Larry Kenworthy or Magnetic Images and Aaron Rosen presented live images of the transit for five hours! Certainly the longest webcast we have ever done!

We streamed the webcast into the virtual world of Second Life showing it on screens in the amphitheater in Midnight City where we had previously shown the 2006 eclipse, and also into the International Spaceflight Museum where we were hosted by Troy Mcluhan.

We had a good crowd of avatars for the entire transit.

The crowd in the International Spaceflight Museum in Second Life. Click to enlarge.

There were almost always more than a dozen avatars for the entire 5 hours of the transit.

I answered questions about Mercury and the transit from noon until 4 PM.

Ron Hipschman provided commentary every half hour during the transit.

I had Amulius Lioncourt build a three dimensional model of Mercury going around the sun. This was a great tool to show people the real shape of Mercury's orbit, it is the most elliptical of all planetary orbits. It also showed how Mercury travels rapidly when it is near the sun and slowly when far from the sun. I showed the animation over and over so people could fly around an through it to truly understand the path of Mercury around the sun.

The yellow plane of the earth's orbit, the ecliptic, hangs over the audience as the orbit of mercury is plotted in white dots around the sun which is a yellow ball.


Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty

© 2006

8 November 2006