The Transit of Mercury

Although this has been my week at home from the observatory, I haven’t been away from astronomy much at all. On Monday, Mercury passed in front of the sun. Because I was at home, I was limited to my small amateur telescopes and I don’t have any solar filters for my larger telescopes. Because of that, I wasn’t able to get any of my own photos of the transit. However, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and Big Bear Solar Observatory managed some spectacular footage of the transit.

The Big Bear data, which comprises the central part of the video is especially fun, since I grew up not far from the observatory and Claude Plymate, who I knew for years at Kitt Peak’s McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory is the chief observer at Big Bear.

I find planet transits fascinating because the Kepler Space Telescope has used the exact same method to find planets around other stars. It looks for the tiny dip in light that comes when a planet passes in front of its host star. This tiny dip in light has helped us to find literally thousands of planets outside our solar system. This seems a good time to remind you that in about a month, we’ll be looking for stories and poems inspired by the planets discovered by Kepler. Visit to see the complete guidelines.

What’s more, scientists hunting for planets around other stars also appear in my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. At the end of last week, my editor sent me her second round of edits from the novel to review. In Roman mythology, Mercury is the messenger to the gods—in essence the god of communication. It seems fitting in this week of Mercury’s transit, I should be charged with reviewing my editor’s attempts to assure that I communicate my story as clearly as possible.

I have to admit that I’ve found the process a little difficult. This is no fault of my editor who went through the novel carefully and, for the most part, made great suggestions. I realized the reason was simply because in the novel, I did my best to imagine the most nightmarish night at an observatory possible. Not only did I have to live work during my days off, I had to live my worst fears about work this past week. Like the heroes in the novel, I overcame my fears and persevered and, for the most part, the novel is ready to send back to my editor.

I hope when the novel gets into your hands, you will find it a real thrill ride. Rest assured, most of my nights are not like the one I describe in the novel’s second part! Despite that, I think you’ll gain some interesting insights about my work in astronomy from the novel. I even touch a little on globular clusters, planetary nebulae, dark energy, and, of course, the hunt for exoplanets. All of these are things I’ve worked on in my astronomy career and I hope you gain some interesting insights into the world of astronomy between the scares! I hope to have more information about the novel’s release soon.

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