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The colder and longer Shamokin nights of November are a stargazer’s paradise. The bright winter constellations are on the rise, but the best show this November is actually in the daytime. On Nov. 11 there’s going to be a transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun. With the proper equipment, you can safely watch the silhouette of Mercury cross in front of the sun. Without a doubt, this is a rare event that only happens a little more than a dozen times a century, although we’ve been fortunate because this will be the third transit in the last 15 years. It will be our last one until 2032.

The planets in our solar system orbit the sun in nearly the same plane, but not exactly. For a transit of Mercury to happen, the Earth and Mercury literally have to be in the right place at the right time. For nearly five and a half hours, Mercury will appear as a small dot crossing the disk of the sun from east to west, but it will only be visible in South America, most of North America and the western tip of Africa. In the United States, only about the eastern third of the contagious 48 states will be able to witness the entire transit. In the rest of the U.S., the transit will begin before local sunrise. The best thing to do is check the calendar section of your Sky Guide app to get your local information, as well as suggestions as to how to safely view it. Never ever view the sun directly with or without a telescope. Irreversible eye damage or even permanent blindness can result.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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