Qatar residents invited to watch the rare Transit of Mercury at Katara

A time-lapse image shows the tiny dot of Mercury sliding across the sun in 2016

On an average, there will be 13 or 14 transits of Mercury each century. the first transit was seen in 1631, nearly 20 years after the invention of the telescope by French astronomer Pierre Gassendi. Because the planet is so tiny and so close to the sun, it doesn't block the sun's light, as the moon does during an eclipse.

A composite photo from NASA showing the most recent transit of Mercury, on May 9, 2016.

Read on to learn how transits contributed to past scientific discoveries and for a look at how scientists use them today. Witnessing a transit is all a matter of timing.

Mercury orbits much faster than Venus, so we get more frequent transits; roughly 13 per century.

Future transits of Mercury will happen in November of 2032, November of 2039, and May of 2049, but only the 2049 event will be observable from Santa Barbara.

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Scientists have used these events for hundreds of years to study the way planets and stars move in space.

So far, two NASA space probes have visited Mercury, Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975, and MESSENGER, which orbited the planet from 2011 until a deliberate crash landing in 2015.

"Qatar residents will have a chance to observe Mercury with astronomical telescopes as a black point appears on the sun's face for 1 hour and 14 minutes approximately from 3:35 pm till Sunset time at 4:49 pm Doha local time", said astronomer expert at Qatar Calendar House Dr Beshir Marzouk. Disposable eclipse glasses should never be used with binoculars and telescopes; magnifying lenses increase sunlight's destructive power and can melt eclipse glasses' flimsy filters, as demonstrated in a video shared to YouTube in 2017 by journalist and photographer Vince Patton. However, it won't be visible from Australia or most of Asia and Alaska.

Mercury's trek across the Sun begins at 4:35 a.m. PST (7:35 a.m. EST), meaning viewers on the East Coast of the USA can experience the entire event, as the Sun will have already risen before the transit begins. By the time the Sun rises on the West Coast, Mercury will have been transiting the Sun for almost two hours. All telescopes with safe filters will be appropriate.

Several other places around the state also will host viewing events as part of a "Statewide Star Party".

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