Look towards the sky and witness the planet Mercury

Matthew Lane • Nov 7, 2019 at 8:00 PM

KINGSPORT — It’s time to dig out your solar glasses from a couple of years ago, aim your head toward the sun and try to catch a glimpse of the smallest planet in our solar system.

What’s taking place on Monday is the transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun. A transit is when a celestial object, like a planet (in this case Mercury), passes directly in front of the sun. If you’re on the correct side of the Earth to see this event (as we are in Tennessee), and have proper solar filters on your telescope, then you’ll see a tiny dot slowly travel across the face of the sun.

And as previously mentioned, if you still have your solar glasses from the solar eclipse of 2017, then feel free to use them to see if you can spot Mercury’s tiny disk against the sun.

Adam Thanz, planetarium director at Bays Mountain Park, wants everyone to remember, though, it’s unsafe to view the sun without proper eye protection. Just don’t do it.


The Bays Mountain Astronomy Club is inviting the public to a transit viewing event at the park’s observatories on Monday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please note that the park’s admission fee still applies.

The actual transit will begin at 7:35 a.m., but you will have to wait for the sun to clear the trees to be able to see it. The event is weather dependent, so if it's very cloudy or rainy, club members and park officials won't be gathering for the transit.

The previous Mercury transit took place in May 2016, with the next one not taking place until 2032 — so don't miss out this year, Thanz said.

“It’ll already have started on the West Coast when the sun rises and the sun will be setting in Europe as the transit is occurring,” Thanz explained. “We’ll see the entire transit from start to finish.”

The eastern half of the United States, much of South America and the Atlantic Ocean will see the entire transit. Other parts of the world will either see part of the full transit or none at all. The entire transit will last about five and a half hours.


To get ready for the viewing, be sure to stop by the planetarium to see the main feature playing through Nov. 10 — "The Transit of Mercury featuring 'Solar Quest.'" The show includes a short from the Buhl Planetarium all about the sun.

Visitors will learn about Mercury and the upcoming Mercury transit on Nov. 11 from a live presentation created by Bays Mountain Planetarian Jason Dorfman. The live content is rich with great full-dome animations, use of the Carl Zeiss ZKP-4 star projector and a fun activity. The show runs about 40 minutes.


- Main show: Friday at 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

- Alternate show: Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

- Tickets: $5 for non-members, free for members and children under 6

For more information, call (423) 229-9447 or visit baysmountain.com.