I saw the planet Mercury for the first time in my life yesterday. Missing it for nearly 6 decades is really sheer laziness, as it’s in plain sight, close to the sun, if you look at the right time, as the ancients well knew.
But for some reason I’ve never been looking in the right place at the right time, even though for at least twenty years of my life I’ve lived in houses with an unobstructed view of the sunset, at some time of the year.
Still, yesterday I noticed a YouTube live stream of Mercury’s transit across the sun, and remembered hearing something on the radio about it and meaning to check it out (but forgetting). The problem was that yesterday here in Devon was overcast with heavy showers, and the sun went in just as I decided it was worth a look. Additionally the builders had arrived and were busy bricking-up the room with the best direct view.
Still, I fished out the Mylar specs I bought for the total eclipse back in ’99, and at last there was a brief break on the clouds. A good view of the sun, but the planet was too small to see with the naked (ie Mylar- and spectacle-covered) eye, so I got the binoculars on a tripod and projected a really nice image of the sun and the dot on to paper. Just like the one on YouTube, only without the little man in a box talking. My wife and I were impressed – though it’s a moot point if we can say we’ve actually seen Mercury, when we’ve only really say we’ve seen a projected image.
That means I’ve now seen all the planets out as far as Uranus, which we clocked with binoculars when it was in conjunction with Jupiter a few years ago. very blue and pretty. I won’t, of course, see any further planets out unless I get hold of a decent telescope, or if there’s a really nasty cosmic accident.
But yesterday’s viewing also means I saw something else, because the tiny disk of Mercury was the only black mark on the sun. There was not a sunspot in sight, which made identifying the planet easier, but is also a sign of an unusual event of more potential significance than the transit. And that, if you don’t keep up with astronomy or dissident climatology, is the Solar Minimum that has seen, over the past months, sunspot activity diminish and then virtually disappear. The sun is now at the least active part of a regular cycle, and according to the experts, this will be a particularly extreme cycle, with the weakest solar activity for a century. It may even be what is called a “Grand Solar Minimum,” which is a super version with a pointy hat. There’s a book about it all, which I haven’t read but may well get.
There is evidence, from past correlations, that this could have quite profound effects on climate, probably in terms of producing significant cooling. The theory is, as I understand it, that because the sun’s magnetic field is weak, it fails to divert cosmic rays, which therefore reach the earth’s atmosphere in greater concentration. This, it is said, provides ionic loci for the condensation of water vapour, leading therefore to greater cloud cover.
More cloud makes for less radiant energy reaching the troposphere, and therefore to cooling. Plus, of course, water-vapour itself is the most significant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere (it’s the degree of feedback from CO2 producing water vapour that makes for the great uncertainty in the climate models. But less water vapour means less greenhouse effect, and therefore less warming.
Weather is very complex, and so the very hard winter of last year may or may not have a relationship to the decreasing solar energy. But Piers Corbyn, the brother of our Labour leader and a meteorologist who makes long range forecasts on the basis of solar considerations (and has a better track record than the Met Office does), says we have some hard weather ahead soon:
Election2019 UK will face OMG appalling weather during most of the campaign and especially on Dec12 ElectionDay – with extreme cold & snow and/or heavy rain and storms – especially in the North.
The weather will change in dramatic switches and there will be some great fine spells too but the main message is BAD weather. It will be THE WeatherElection! WISE UP!
He’s been saying that for several months, so it will be interesting to check out what happens.
So Mercury, known in Greek as Hermes, like the carrier, arrived right on cue. Which is more than can be said for a package that was supposed to be delivered by DHL yesterday, which has still not materialised. They said the driver had difficulty getting here, because of the bad weather.