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Celestial treat for UAE stargazers

posted on 10/05/2016: 1576 views

Abdullah Al Qouodhy took a step closer on Monday to his dream of becoming an astronaut.

The 13-year-old was one of the stargazers who, at the risk of a twisted neck, turned their heads to the skies to watch as Mercury orbited between the Sun and Earth.

The rare celestial event, known as a transit, took place just after 3pm as Mercury – appearing as a small black dot – crossed into view on the edge of the Sun, travelling across its bright surface.

Abdullah said it was both fascinating and inspiring. "I love these types of things," he said. "My dream is to become an astronaut."

He joined pupils and members of the public at an event held by the UAE Space Agency and the International Astronomy Centre to peer into telescopes or watch on a television screen.

Due to the Sun's size, a telescope or high-powered binoculars fitted with a solar filter – designed to view the star safely – were needed as experts warned against looking directly into the Sun and advised the use of special equipment for viewing.

"It's a rare astronomical event and we are using it to raise awareness and spark the interest of the youth to study astronomical and space sciences," said Khalfan Al Romaithi, a space technology engineer with the UAE Space Agency.

Abu Dhabi was one of the first cities in the region to experience the transit, the agency said.

According to Nasa, Mercury, which completes a 58 million kilometre orbit around the Sun that lasts 88 days – passes between the Earth and our closest star approximately 13 times a century, with the most-recent transit in 2006.

The next one will not occur until 2019, with the following one in 2032, said Mr Al Romaithi.

While relatively rare, a Mercury transit occurs more frequently than some of the other planets in the solar system.

In contrast, in 2012 Venus made a trek across the face of the Sun as seen from Earth – its last transit until next year.

Transits provide a great opportunity to study the way planets and stars move in space. Information gathered during such events has been used throughout history to gain understanding of the solar system.

Over three centuries ago, transits allowed early astronomers to make relatively accurate estimates of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

This time around, Nasa scientists said they would use Mercury's transit to study the planet's ultra-thin atmosphere. – The National -


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