KARACHI: A rare astronomical event, Mercury transiting the Sun, was witnessed by a large number of students and faculty members at the Institute of Space and Planetary Astrophysics (ISPA), University of Karachi, on Monday, says a statement.

The director of Space Science, Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Pakistan, Ghulam Murtaza, and his team with ISPA assistant professor Syed Tanveer Iqbal were present to witness the transit with the students, faculty members and other observers.

KU’s ISPA organised the gathering to observe this astronomical phenomenon, predicted to be observed next in 2032. The observation programme was held on the rooftop of the ISPA building. The transit was monitored from the newly installed high-resolution 16-inch telescope at the ISPA observatory from 5.34pm till 5.46pm.

Syed Tanveer Iqbal informed the audience that the event lasted barely for six minutes owing to sunset. He said people could see it for a longer time if sunlight remained in the sky. “The transit of Mercury remains for 10 to 11 minutes, but due to bad light, it could not be seen for more than six minutes. The transit was observed two degrees above the horizon.”

He explained that people in North America might have caught the transit of Mercury easily if they had clear weather, as it was visible for more than five hours in that region.

Mr Iqbal said that ISPA had made special arrangements to capture the rare event and invited the public and media to witness it.

Meanwhile, Ghulam Murtaza shared that this rare observation was not possible in the northern part of the country because of early sunset time there. He said that the newly installed telescope was ideal to watch the transit and such observations helped in understanding solar activities.

He said that Mercury moved around the Sun in 88 Earth days because Mercury is the closest planet in our solar system. He said that such a transit could be seen 13 or 14 times in a century. Mr Murtaza added that Suparco also brought their gadgets with a moveable telescope so that the public could witness the event with their own eyes whereas ISPA had attached the main telescope with a big screen so that observers could view the whole transit easily.

A former director of ISPA, Prof Dr Shahid Qureshi, said that earlier Mercury transit was observed on May 7, 2003 and was visible from the whole country, but on Nov 8, 2006 it was not seen from Pakistan.

He further said that on May 6, 2016 it was easily seen from the country and was observed for a very brief time on Monday. He added that the transit or passage of a planet across the face of the Sun was a relatively rare occurrence, and as seen from Earth, only transits of Mercury and Venus were possible. The transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2019