The Transit of Mercury
By Ed Mizzi
Edited by Jeff Booth
If you witnessed the transit of Mercury on May 9 you know how amazing it was. But if you witnessed the transit along with an entire elementary school body (360 students), you would have been doubly amazed!
The stage was set early in the day when Jeff Booth, Muhammad Ahmad and I arrived at the Burlington school before 7 a.m. Of course, with school not starting until 9 a.m., there were selfish motives at work. We all wanted to witness the start of the transit – the ingress – and we were not disappointed. There was not a cloud in the sky and seeing Mercury begin to cross the surface of the Sun was breathtaking.
Shortly thereafter, Wayne Herd joined us and we finished setting up the club’s signs, a display board that I had made, and a projection screen/binoculars setup that could be viewed in case anyone chose not to look through one of the ‘scopes.
While we waited for school to begin, Mark Smith and a friend showed up to have a look on their way to work, as well as two of my neighbours, along with their children. Like many other amateur astronomers, I am the go-to astronomer in my neighbourhood and I just love it when they take me up on offers to view objects in the sky.
The first class came out at about 9:15 a.m. and we began our sessions with a short explanation of what was occurring, using my Bristol board diagram, and a basketball and golf ball (obviously not relative in size). Then Wayne explained how the binoculars/white screen was the safest way to view the event and that gave him a chance to discuss the importance of viewing the Sun properly and safely. It just so happened (fortuitously) that when we set up the binoculars Wayne covered one of the eyepieces with a disc of cardboard and by the time we remembered to cover the objective end, the Sun had burned a hole through the cardboard. This made for a very helpful and telltale prop when explaining the danger of looking at the Sun unprotected. We then lined up the kids as we had four scopes to work with and the oohs and aahhs began immediately; and if you have ever done any Outreach work you know just how gratifying and exciting it is to hear people – especially children – using expletives when looking through a telescope.
From then on, until 1:30 p.m., class after class came out for their lesson and views of this amazing event. The energy in the air was almost palpable and the interest by the kids was more than we could ever have imagined. During recesses and lunch we had steady line ups, mostly of children who wanted a second or third look and we could hardly keep up. A few children even asked Jeff if they could let their stuffed animals have a peak. “Of course,” came the reply, to squeals of delight.
Ron Shields showed up later in the morning with his telescope, meaning that we then had five ‘scopes plus the binocular projection with which to work and several children wanted to look through every scope, even though, for all intents and purposes, the views were almost identical. However, Ron got some extra attention since he had a glass filter that gave slightly clearer views and added some colour to the Sun.
The principal of Canadian Martyrs Catholic Elementary School, Jennifer Yust, came out for a look herself and applauded and thanked us for sharing this with her students and staff. And , of course, thanks to her, too, for hosting us.
We also had some help from Gladwin Hui and Dilip Mahto who showed up later in the day, as well as friends of Muhammad, Mohamed Ramadan and his wife, who brought us coffee, cookies and Timbits…thank you!
The last group to visit us was the junior and senior kindergarten class and, even though some of them had difficulty seeing Mercury, they were still excited to be included in this special event, as was their teacher who, believe or not, I taught years ago in high school (poor girl).
After the kids were gone, four of us decided to stay to the end. Being as “geekish” about astronomy as we are, we just had to see the egress, too. So there we were, Jeff, Ron, Muhammad and this writer waiting patiently for that special moment, where Mercury would depart the disc of the Sun. Both Jeff and Muhammad had cameras set up to record the event and of course, clouds began to roll in. So between cloud cover and clear skies, we did get glimpses of that moment, some of which were posted on the Hamilton Centre Forum and we all agreed that this was a day to remember.
A special thank you goes out to Gary Bennett who had two solar filters made up for two of the club’s eight-inch Dobsonian telescopes and gave us the moral support we needed to succeed. The high reflectivity of the solar filters was not lost on two young ladies, in a senior grade, by the way, who independently discovered the filters can also be used temporarily as rather good check-your-face mirrors.
Thanks, as well, to Boris Hofman, a long-time colleague and the school board’s media expert, for coming out to take photos and video of the event.
And last but far from least, a very special thank you goes to the teacher who was my contact at the school and who made up school announcements, produced a schedule of classes for the day and generally got the entire school excited about this event. Thank you Claudia Amendola.
Photos of Transit by Jeff Booth (#1 & 2), Muhammad Ahmad (4) and Mohamed Ramadan (3)
Photos of event by Ed Mizzi, Boris Hofman, Jeff Booth and Mohamed Ramadan