Stargazers watch Mercury cross the sun at Cranbrook

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Dozens of stargazers flocked to the Cranbrook Institute of Science on Monday to catch a glimpse of Mercury passing between Earth and the sun for the first time in 10 years.

“I have always been interested in astronomy,” said Josh Nedo of Waterford Township, who jumped at the chance to see the relatively rare crossing at the observatory. “My dad got me a telescope growing up and I watch any astronomy documentary I can find on Netflix. It’s fascinating to be able to see this in real time.”

The Michigan State University junior added: “If I was better at math, I would have majored in astronomy.”

Others turned to the internet, where NASA offered close-to-real-time images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the 7 1/2 hour trek, which resembled a black dot against the glowing star. Though it appeared to be trudging along, it actually was zooming past the sun at 106,000 mph.

Mercury a black dot as it crosses vast face of sun

Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system and the closest to the sun, has an orbit of 88 days. The planet transits 13 times in a century. The next transit is November 2019, then it won’t happen again until 2032.

To keep observers from damaging their eyes from the sun, the Cranbrook Institute of Science used special filters for the viewing. Normally closed on Monday, Cranbrook opened for the transit event.

“You don’t need an expensive telescope to be able to view it, but make sure you have one that has the special sun filter,” said Marty Kunz, observatory technician at Cranbrook. “This isn’t my first mercury transit, but it’s exciting for me to see people that have never seen it before.”

Ashlie Smith, who teaches a conceptual physics course to eighth-grade girls at the Cranbrook Institute of Art, liked the hands-on learning.

“I love space science, so I thought this would be a great way to tie in physics and not be restricted to the classroom,” Smith said. “Plus, it gives the girls a chance to see the bigger picture and realize they are just a small blip in a huge universe.”

Jordan Murrell was in awe as she took a long look through the telescope.

“This is so cool, Jordan, 14, said. “I went to space camp when I was in the fifth grade, so I have always been interested in science. I like that we have resources like this on our campus to take advantage of.”

Michael Narlock, head of astronomy at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, hopes people take advantage of chance to view the transit.

“What is special about this discipline is that you don’t need an expensive lab, you only need a couple of telescopes or binoculars and the naked eye,” said Narlock, who grew up stargazing in Arizona. “Many civilizations based their way of life from the sky and the planets. Astronomy and events like this gives us a way to reconnect with the universe.”

(313) 222-1855


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

If you go:

May 14

Cranbrook Institue of Science

■39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304

■1 p.m.- 4p.m.

Free with admission to the museum