TRACE observations of the 15 November 1999 transit of Mercury and the Black Drop effect: Considerations for the 2004 transit of Venus

Glenn Schneider, Jay M. Pasachoff, Leon Golub

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

Historically, the visual manifestation of the "Black Drop effect," the appearance of a band linking the solar limb to the disk of a transiting planet near the point of internal tangency, had limited the accuracy of the determination of the Astronomical Unit and the scale of the Solar System in the 18th and 19th centuries. This problem was misunderstood in the case of Venus during its rare transits due to the presence of its atmosphere. We report on observations of the 15 November 1999 transit of Mercury obtained, without the degrading effects of the Earth's atmosphere, with the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer spacecraft. In spite of the telescope's location beyond the Earth's atmosphere, and the absence of a significant mercurian atmosphere, a faint Black Drop effect was detected. After calibration and removal of, or compensation for, both internal and external systematic effects, the only radially directed brightness anisotropies found resulted from the convolution of the instrumental point-spread function with the solar limb-darkened, back-lit, illumination function. We discuss these effects in light of earlier ground-based observations of transits of Mercury and of Venus (also including the effects of atmospheric "seeing") to explain the historical basis for the Black Drop effect. The methodologies we outline here for improving upon transit imagery are applicable to ground-based (adaptive optics augmented) and space-based observations of the 8 June 2004 and 5-6 June 2012 transits of Venus, providing a path to achieving high-precision measurements at and near the instants of internal limb tangencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-256
Number of pages8
JournalIcarus
Volume168
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2004

Keywords

  • Instrumentation
  • Mercury
  • Venus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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