A dozen astronomers gathered on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon on Monday morning to witness a cosmic event that only takes place 13 times a century.
“We’re here to see the world’s smallest eclipse of the sun, it’s called the Mercury transit,” said Tim Yaworski, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
“The planet Mercury right now is passing between us and the sun and, for a very rare moment, we have a chance to actually see it.”
Mercury could be seen during the transit — when the planet crosses in front of the sun, from the perspective of someone on Earth. Using a solar filter on a telescope, it was visible as a small speck against a bright background, between about 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the city.
“For astronomers, it’s checking it off your bucket list,” Yaworski said.
Tara Magee, a fellow member of the society, said glimpsing the planet caused her to reflect on her life.
“It sort of makes you feel small in a way, but kind of makes you feel connected with everything else.”
The society also opened the doors of the University of Saskatchewan Observatory to provide a second site for people to view the transit.
Josseline Ramos and Karn Pamar, chemistry students, also said the experience made them introspective.
“There is a lot more things that we don’t know outside the universe and just to be aware that there’s some other planets too in this solar system … it’s fascinating,” said Ramos, shortly after stepping down from the telescope.
“It’s beyond humanity, right? It’s all the different things that we don’t know.”
Several dozen members of the public, including young children, dropped by both sites during the day.
Yaworksi said one of the biggest thrills of astronomy is introducing other people to it.
“The wonder and awe is really what it comes down to,” he said.
Mercury doesn’t orbit the sun at the same rate as Earth and so the transits do not occur at regular intervals. The previous crossing was in 2016 and the next one will be in 2032, though it won’t be visible from Saskatoon, said Yaworski.