Mercury will fly across the sun on Monday (from Earth's perspective), and NASA has a whole range of materials ready for children.
The agency urges educators, parents and guardians not to miss the opportunity to do real-time science with children as the next transit will not take place until 2032.
If the weather outside is good and you have the right equipment, you can take the children out to show you the transit "personally". "Make sure all binoculars or telescopes you use have proper sunscreens and never look into the sun with your eyes uncovered – here is the list of NASA with the proper safety equipment to keep the experience safe
Related: Mercury Transit 201
Here are some activities that children can enjoy.
- Can Can You Recognize Mercury? : This slideshow allows children to seek out the planet Mercury, which is traveling across the Sun in previous planetary transits (the last was in 2016), and will be a good exercise for the big event on Monday. (Kindergarten through grade 12)
- 18 ways NASA uses Pi : Mercury is a round planet that goes through a round sun, and as every math student learns, pi is one essential component in the calculation of a disk or a surface. This website offers nearly 20 ways NASA Pi uses multiple missions, including for exploration of Mars. (Kindergarten to Grade 12)
- Solar Sleuth : This mathematical problem, along with illustrations, shows how astronomers calculate the size of exoplanets as they travel across the face of their own sun, as in Mercury. Maybe you can apply this to transit on Monday. (Grades 6 to 9)
- Sunscreen : This mathematical problem helps students figure out how much sunlight is lost on Earth when Mercury wanders across the Sun. (Grades 6 to 9)
- Exploration of Exoplanets with Kepler : This maths session helps students to use transits to understand Mercury, Venus and exoplanets. (Grades 6 to 12)
Historically, NASA stated in a statement, the transit of mercury was used to accurately measure the distance between the Sun and Earth. (Today we can do the same with more accurate radar measurements, but the technology was not available in the 17th century.)
In this technique, observers who spread on Earth view Mercury's position on the Sun and compare notes. This phenomenon is called a parallax shift, and you can even see it in action by stretching your arm, putting your thumb up, and looking at your thumb with only your left eye and then your right eye. The position of the thumb against the background shifts slightly, because your eyes look at it from slightly different angles.
Sun passes are still useful to scientists today as they can provide better techniques for measuring the size of exoplanets passing by "If Mercury is in front of the Sun, we can study the exosphere near the planet," NASA scientist Rosemary Killen said in the same statement. "Sodium in the exosphere absorbs and emits a yellow-orange color from sunlight, and by measuring this absorption, we can learn something about the density of the gas."