Transit of Mercury at the Cronyn Observatory, May 9th, 2016

Clear skies, with some hazy clouds later, greeted some 400 visitors to Western University’s Cronyn Observatory for the Transit of Mercury, Monday, May 9th, 2016. Events and activities began at 7:00 a.m., with Mercury beginning its transit at 7:12 a.m. and ending at 2:42 p.m. EDT. School groups, including 165 children and 57 adults, arrived between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., with public viewing 7:00 a.m.—2:00 p.m.

There was a live stream of the event from the Coca Cola Space Science Center, Columbus State University, Georgia, in the observatory lecture room with a laptop computer and projector with the caption on the screen “Live – Mercury Transit Hydrogen-Alpha 656nm.” There were special half-hour presentations—Astro Talks—given in the Engineering building (SEB 1200) next to the Cronyn between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. by Professors Sarah Gallagher, “The Wonderful Thing about Transits”; and Chris Smeenk, “Why Mercury Made Einstein’s Heart Flutter”; with Catherine Neish making her presentation “Icy Hot Mercury” twice. Next to the Engineering classroom people from the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, including Deborah Fox, Craig Fox and Jamie Shaw, conducted demonstrations of space-time warping.

Other activities included a “Tour of the Solar System” with half-hour walking tours conducted by undergraduate students William Hyland, 9:00—11:00 a.m., and Ian Mulholland, 11:00 a.m.—1:30 p.m. Visitors were greeted at the Welcome Table set up on the concrete walkway in front of the Cronyn Observatory by graduate student Dilini Subasinghe and Professor Aaron Sigut, 7:00—9:00 a.m.; Kendra Kellogg and Laura Lenkic and Dr. Alyssa Gilbert (who also served as Solar System Tour backup) from 9:00—11:00 p.m.; and graduate students Shannon Hicks and Collin Knight and Dr. Shailesh Nene. They handed out some 350 eclipse glasses, along with crossword puzzles, information cards on the CPSX Space Camp and the “Cronyn Observatory presents … Mercury in Transit across the Sun, Monday, May 9, 2016” information sheets.

Downstairs in the “Black Room” visitors were shown the “Transit Demo” model of an extra-solar planetary system on a turntable with an electrically lighted “sun” in the middle to explain how we viewed the transit of Mercury across the Sun from Earth. Graduate student Tony Martinez took the first shift at 7:00—9:00 a.m., followed by Professor Els Peeters, 9:00—11:00 a.m. and then graduate students Laura Lenkic, 11:00 a.m.—12:30 p.m. and Maryam Tabeshian, 12:30—2:00 p.m. They also used the “Transit Demo” model to explain how the transit detection method worked for finding extra-solar planets. A photodiode was clamped to a laboratory stand and linked to a laptop computer, which displayed the dipping light curve as model planets of various sizes revolved around and in front of the lighted model sun. It was a very impressive demonstration of the transit detection method for finding extra-solar planets. Graduate student Parshati Patel conducted the “Mercury Mapping” activity, 11:00 a.m.—12:00 noon.

Next to the “Black Room” was the “Period Room” with displays including Dr. H. R. Kingston’s brass refractor telescope and the Sotellunium—a mechanical eclipse demonstration model—built by W. G. Colgrove. (The “Period Room” recreated H. R. Kingston’s office, based on a photograph from 1940, and was designed by RASC London Centre member Mark Tovey for the Cronyn Observatory’s 75th Anniversary, celebrated October 24th / 25th, 2015.)
Upstairs in the dome the big 25.4cm refractor was fitted with the Herschel wedge, 52mm Erfle eyepiece (84X) and projection screen and directed towards the Sun. Faculty members and graduate student took turns talking to the visitors and explaining what they were seeing, including Sebastian Bruzzone and post-doctoral fellow David Stock, 7:00—9:00 a.m.; graduate student Shannon Hicks and Professor Emeritus John Landstreet, 9:00—11:00 a.m.; Kendra Kellogg and Professor John DeBruyn, 11:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m. and Laura Lenkic and undergraduate Nathalie Thibert, 1:00—2:00 p.m.

RASC London Centre members present included Everett Clark, Dave Clark, Paul Kerans, Peter Jedicke, Steve Gauthier, Mike Costa, Dale Armstrong, Heather MacIsaac and Bob Duff. London Centre member Roman Dubinski visited from work on campus, bringing 3 guests from Poland to view the Mercury transit through the telescopes, and Richard Gibbens was also there.

On the roof patio outside the dome, RASC London Centre member Allan Leparskas set up his Canon 7D digital camera with a 400mm lens and home-made Mylar solar filter on a Sky-Watcher mount taking pictures of the Sun every 6 minutes. Heather MacIsaac showed visitors the transit of Mercury across the Sun through her Celestron Go-To 90mm Maksutov (32mm Plossl eyepiece, 39X) with Mylar solar film secured with rubber bands over the aperture. Everett Clark set up the Cronyn Observatory’s 8-inch (20.3cm) Meade 2080/LX3 Schmidt-Cassegrain (26mm Plossl eyepiece 77X) with the Kendrick Astro Baader film solar filter.

On the concrete walkway on the south side of the Cronyn Observatory RASC London Centre members set up their telescopes including Steve Gauthier, with his 8-inch (20.3cm) Newtonian reflector on a Celestron Losmandy G11 mount and glass solar filter; Dave Clark with his Celestron Super C8 (20.3cm) Schmidt-Cassegrain and glass solar filter; Paul Kerans with his 80mm Sky-Watcher refractor on a Sky-Watcher EQ6 Equatorial mount and glass solar filter; Mike Costa with his iOptron Solar 60 refractor; Dale Armstrong with his Vernonscope 80mm refractor and solar filter; and Peter Jedicke with the Sunspotter (provided by Fanshawe College).

Professor Jan Cami showed visitors the transit of Mercury across the Sun through the Observatory’s 90mm Coronado H-Alpha Solar Telescope set up on the Sky-Watcher EQ5 mount, using the 25mm (32X) and 12mm (66.7X) eyepieces. The 90mm Coronado was set up beside portable shelter with a large TV screen, which was not used because there was no signal. However, Paul Kerans, with his 80mm Sky-Watcher refractor and glass solar filter, obtained an image on a 24-inch flat screen TV with his MallinCam Micro-Ex CCD camera. Paul also showed people the transit through his 80mm Sky-Watcher refractor with his 21mm (28.6X) and 13mm (46X) Ethos eyepieces.

These are just some of the activities that went on during the Mercury Transit of May 9, 2016, at the Cronyn Observatory. Physics and Astronomy Department staff and RASC member Henry Leparskas was there taking pictures with his camera. The event ended with the egress of Mercury from the face of the Sun at 2:41 p.m. EDT.