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Mercury poised for rare “transit” over sun’s face today

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CAPE CANAVERAL — Stargazers will have a rare opportunity today to witness Mercury fly directly across the face of the sun, a sight that unfolds once every 10 years or so, as Earth and its smaller neighboring planet come into perfect alignment.

The best vantage points to observe the celestial event, known to astronomers as a transit, are eastern North America, South America, Western Europe and Africa, assuming clouds are not obscuring the sun. In those regions, the entire transit will occur during daylight hours, according to Sky and Telescope magazine.

But Mercury is too small to see without high-powered binoculars or a telescope, and looking directly at the sun, even with sunglasses, could cause permanent eye damage.

Fortunately NASA and astronomy organizations are providing virtual ringside seats for the show by live-streaming images of the transit in its entirety and providing expert commentary.

The tiny planet, slightly larger than Earth’s moon, will start off as a small black dot on the edge of the sun at 7:12 am Eastern (1112 GMT). Traveling 30 miles (48 km) a second, Mercury will take 7.5 hours to cross the face of the sun, which is about 864,300 miles (1.39 million km) in diameter, or about 109 times larger than Earth.

“Unlike sunspots, which have irregular shapes and grayish borders, Mercury’s silhouette will be black and precisely round,” Sky and Telescope said in a press release.

The event will come into view in the western United States after dawn, with the transit already in progress. The show will end at sunset in parts of Europe, Africa and most of Asia.

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NASA Television, available on the Internet, will broadcast live video and images from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory and other telescopes. The show includes informal discussions with NASA scientists, who will answer questions submitted via Twitter using the hashtag #AskNASA.

Reuters

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Boston Dynamics’ robot can open up doors and hold for others to enter

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Secretive robotics firm Boston Dynamics has posted a new video to its YouTube channe on Monday showing off its SpotMini robo-canine, in which he can be seen opening a door all on his own and hold until another enters the door.

In the 45-second video, titled ‘Hey Buddy, Can You Give Me a Hand?’ a SpotMini walks over to a door before realizing it can’t get through.

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Another SpotMini quickly comes to his rescue and extends his clawed arm, which he uses to grab the door handle.

The robot then grabs the handle, turns it, and pulls back the door. Using one of its front legs, the robot manages to hold open the door as the claw releases the handle and pens the door fully.

The SpotMini is seen holding open the door as his fellow robo-dog friend then casually walks through the door.

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