In a rare event, which only occurs a few times a century, the innermost planet of the Solar System will soon find its orbit crossing directly between the Earth and the Sun, as Mercury transits our home star on May 9, 2016.
During the event, Mercury will slowly move across our field of view, a small black dot across our Sun’s brilliantly bright face, a celestial show that will last seven hours, and which will be visible wherever the sun is shining.
Transits of Mercury occur only 13 or 14 times in a century, usually in either May or November. The last transit was in 2006.
In the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, Mercury (or Hermes) was the messenger of the gods, flying across the realms at lightning speed with his winged sandals. It is fitting that the planet closest to our Sun would share its name with the swift-footed god, since Mercury travels around the Sun faster than any other planet.
Even more fitting? Hermes has a special connection with Apollo, one of the Greek gods who held the distinct honor of driving the sun chariot across the sky. Hermes was known to the gods of Olympus as a trickster, even when he was just a baby, he could be found stealing prized objects from the other gods, and hiding them in ridiculous places. One day, the infant Hermes decided to sneak out of his cradle and steal Apollo’s precious herd of cattle. He traveled to Northern Greece, to the secret location where Apollo kept the cows, taking along a magic lyre. When he found the cows, Hermes pulled out the lyre and played an enchanting tune that made the herd follow his instructions. The infant god coaxed the cows to walk backward out of their enclosure and along a path until he was able to hide them away where they could not be found.
When Apollo returned to discover his precious cattle had been stolen, he was outraged, but he could not find them because the only footprints pointed toward their enclosure. Apollo raced around, asking everyone in sight if they knew where his cows had gone, eventually offering the only witness plentiful harvests for his information. Then, Apollo turned on his half-brother Hermes, demanding to know where he had stashed the cows. After some time spent playing dumb, Hermes finally relented and returned the cows to Apollo. In order to placate his angry half-brother, Hermes also offered Apollo his enchanted lyre, which he accepted, making Apollo the god of music. In return, Apollo gave Hermes his magic staff, the Cadeusus, and made him the caretaker of his herds of animals.
For this stellar performance, Slooh will be bringing together dozens of feed partners from countries across the globe, giving viewers a once in a lifetime look at the small planet’s journey. Slooh hosts and astronomers, together with guests and experts in planetary transits, history, literature, and art, will explore the significance of events like these, not only in academic pursuits, but in human experience.