2019 TRANSIT OF MERCURY: BRAZIL2019-11-13T21:21:47+00:00


Mercury, the small black dot, as it begins to transit the face of the Sun on November 11, 2019 as seen from Fernando de Noronha around 11am local time. Paul D. Maley photo.

My first attempt to observe a transit of Mercury was May 9, 1970; some others I observed occurred on November 10, 1973; November 15, 1993; November 15, 1999; May 7, 2003; November 8, 2006; and May 9, 2016.   Though the planet Mercury is quite distant from the Earth, only it and Venus come between the Earth and Sun and offer the rare opportunities to view them in this manner. Since 2019 was the last year until 2032 when Mercury made such a journey from our point of view, I chose this time to visit my 295th country (the island of Fernando de Noronha) located in the Atlantic Ocean just northeast of Brazil.  Because Mercury covers less than 1/200 of the Sun’s face and was not really dramatic enough for a group trip, I decided to make this adventure with only my wife Lynn Palmer who took most of the images that follow.

It took us 4 flights from Arizona to reach our destination during a time when weather along the route is known to be good.  Of the 8 flights in total, the most critical one was the 1 hour 25 minute connection from Sao Paulo to Houston on November 13 that ended up putting us almost in jeopardy.  Luckily, we were able to arrive in time to the Sao Paulo airport, board the interterminal bus and get through security and passport control with just minutes to spare prior to United flight 63 closing its doors.  We began our travel November 8 and returned November 13 spending less than 24 hours on the island.

Recife, Brazil from the air on a beautiful day. All photos by Lynn Palmer unless otherwise noted.

Our small Domino’s Pizza and expedition staple Coke Zero in the Recife airport while waiting for our flight to Fernando de Noronha.

Waiting in the ‘amateur astronomers line’ to board the 65 minute flight to Fernando de Noronha.

Embraer 195 jet. Considering the Embraer planes that United buys where you cannot put many commonly carried bags into the overhead, this plane is fantastic. Either 2 x 2 or 3 x 3 seating, there is no problem carrying astronomical gear onboard. 

Because of the Mercury transit I was the first person to board the Azul Air flight to Fernando de Noronha.

The approach to the island.

The only astronomical sign we saw as we were transported to our bed and breakfast. The marker is called “Star dish” in English and it is not clear about its significance.

Unusual outcroppings.

A beautiful beach close to the airport.

Not speaking Portuguese, we had no idea where to eat dinner the night before the transit. The hotel manager suggested a place a few blocks away that they said was fantastic. They were right. This was likely the best meal we ever ate!  One dish above is shrimp and rice. 

The dinner menu. The island is a very expensive place as virtually everything has to be imported from the Brazil mainland.  Every item was at least US $30.

An unbelievable gourmet dish of octopus tentacles. A wonderful way to prepare for the transit!

Colorful flowers at our hotel.

Our bed and breakfast was called Pousada Sympatia da Illha. Here is the breakfast area.

The cook, Gleicie, holding the breakfast menu. If only I could understand Portuguese!

Fabulous papaya and kiwi fruit (in addition to cooked to order omelets and other accoutrements).

Proper preparation meant setting up the equipment in a room without air conditioning to avoid undesirable condensation. Here the scope is set up in the rather small room an hour before the start of the transit.

One trick needed to block the Sun is to attach a cardboard Sun shield in front of the optics prior to the start of solar observation. It was precut from an old cardboard box in Arizona and set to fit inside my rolling bag. It was secured in place from the 20 mph winds by tape on two sides. The objective is a 1250mm Celestron 5 telephoto lens.

The wind brought in passing cloud which actually helped to define Mercury by its contrast.

Since the transit was to last 5.5 hours, it is good to use the shade of grapevines to keep the Sun’s rays at bay. Here you see the kneeling towel used to minimize contact with concrete. The mount is an IOptron Cube E with Thousand Oaks ND5 solar filter and Nikon D3100 camera. Set up was located in front of our room with building structure blocking most of the wind effects.

At times it was possible to use a comfortable chair instead of kneeling but the altitude of the Sun was above 60 degrees nearly the entire time.

At times the temperature became quite hot and waiting is just part of the experience. Note the clear sky in background and strong shadows.

This image served mainly as a precursor test image prior to using the same gear during the December annular solar eclipse in India. Mercury is the small dot in the lower left while there are some dust specs and artifacts distributed elsewhere in the above photo. Image scale provided sufficient for use. However, difficulty getting the mount to properly track meant that it had to be periodically corrected in order to keep the Sun in the center of the field of view.  Testing is always important and this location was just below the equator. It was the first time to use it in the southern hemisphere.