Image: Mercury and sunspot
Doug Murray  /  Reuters
The planet Mercury is visible as a small, perfectly circular dot on the middle left edge of the sun's disk, below a large sunspot, as seen through a solar-filtered telescope at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on Wednesday.
updated 11/9/2006 12:59:18 PM ET 2006-11-09T17:59:18

Mercury’s brief trip Wednesday between Earth and the sun treated skywatchers to a celestial event most people get to see less than once a decade.

The minuscule planet appeared as a tiny dot passing from left to right across the face of the sun. The five-hour passing, called a transit, was viewable only with specially outfitted telescopes and online telescope cameras.

The crossing, which occurs about 13 times a century, last occurred in 2003 and will not happen again until 2016, according to NASA.

Amateur astronomers set up about three dozen telescopes on the lawn of the newly renovated Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, one of many facilities that held special viewing parties.

“I guess it’s kind of amazing and it’s humbling. The sun is so gigantic and our universe is so gigantic,” said Kari Peviani, 26, a visitor.

The observatory recently reopened after being closed for five years during its $93 million restoration.

This year’s transit was visible in large parts of North and South America, Australia and Asia, but not in Europe, Africa, the Middle East or India, where it was nighttime.

Transits of Mercury are more frequent than Venus, which occur in pairs, roughly twice in each century. The next transit of Venus is in 2012.

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