De jacht op Mercurius

Mercurius is de moeilijkst waarneembare planeet van ons zonnestelsel. Ze zit altijd dicht bij de zon en is slechts een tiental dagen per jaar gunstig geplaatst, maar dan altijd in de schemering en laag aan de horizon. Veel waarnemers hebben daarom Mercurius nog nooit gezien. Echter, als de planeet voor de zon schuift, is ze relatief gemakkelijk te detecteren als een klein zwart schijfje. De vorige Mercuriusovergang was in 2016. Maar op maandag 11 november deed de kleine rakker het weer… Het hoeft dan ook niet te verbazen dat de meeste leden van WGAS (Werkgroep Algemene Sterrenkunde) deze datum in het vet in hun agenda hadden aangeduid. Immers, de volgende transit is pas in 2032!

Om een Venustransit te zien is een eclipsbrilletje voldoende. Ter info: de volgende Venusovergang is pas over… 100 jaar! Maar Mercurius is veel kleiner dan Venus en een telescoop, voorzien van een zonnefilter, is dus een noodzakelijke voorwaarde om het zwarte silhouet van Mercurius met eigen ogen waar te nemen. De dagen ervoor was het mooi zonnig weer, maar op 11 november werkten de weergoden totaal niet mee: er trok een front met regen van west naar oost over België. Maar sommige modellen gaven een sprankeltje hoop op succes in Duitsland en daarom vertrokken, na druk overleg op de WGAS-mailinglijst, drie moedige leden naar het oosten.

Hoopvolle blauwe streepjes aan de horizon.

Om zeker te zijn van een heldere hemel, moest je al naar (het vroegere) Oost-Duitsland rijden. Spijtig genoeg was dat geen optie op een voormiddag. Het plan kreeg dan ook de eenvoudigste wending: plankgas geven om op 3 uur tijd zo ver mogelijk te geraken en ondertussen de wolkenfoto’s in het oog houden! Eerst ging het pal oost richting Duitsland. Al vrij snel zagen we aan de horizon blauwe strepen in het wolkendek. Na een tijdje kwam de zon zelfs regelmatig door de wolken piepen en konden we zowaar een mooie bijzon meepikken. Allen hoopvol! Bij Duisburg zwenkten we naar het noorden af, in de hoop volop in een opklaring te stranden. Maar hoe verder we reden, hoe dikker het wolkenpakket werd - we vreesden het ergste…

Een heldere bijzon op onze weg naar Duitsland.

Een kwartier voor het eerste contact parkeerden we de auto op een ongezellige parking en begonnen we – ondanks de wolken – snel de apparatuur op te stellen. De truckchauffeurs ter plekke begrepen er niets van! Het oorspronkelijk plan was het verschil tussen het tweede contact in H-alfa en wit licht te timen: aan de hand van dat verschil kan je de dikte van de chromosfeer berekenen. Maar gezien de hopeloze situatie lieten we de H-alfakijker netjes in de auto liggen.

De route naar parking Lau Brechte.

En toen, een minuut voor het eerste contact, kwam de zon toch door de wolken gluren. De transparantie was zeer slecht, maar toch voldoende om de volledige intrede van Mercurius goed visueel te volgen in de 8 cm refractor. De astrofotografen in het gezelschap leverden een heroïsch gevecht, maar moesten de duimen leggen tegen de hoge bewolking. Geen foto’s van de intrede dus. Beetje bij beetje verminderden de dikke sluiers en werd de kwaliteit van de opklaringen beter. Na een half uur konden we Mercurius op de gevoelige chip vastleggen en bij een telefoontje met het thuisfront beseften we pas hoeveel geluk we hadden: op Urania was het aan het regenen…

Zwart stipje Mercurius in gevecht met de wolken.

Anderhalf uur lang kregen we regelmatig een korte, maar fraaie blik op dat kleine bolletje voor de zon. Rond 15 uur begon onze ster stilaan achter de bomen van de parking te zakken en, toegegeven, er stond ook een guur windje dat de gevoelstemperatuur flink naar beneden haalde. De buit was echter binnen en er werd besloten om in te pakken. Al spoedig kregen we op de terugweg regen en enkele files te verwerken. Maar dat kon de pret niet drukken. Ondertussen waren sommige thuisblijvers er toch nog in geslaagd om – laag in het westen, tijdens een eenzame, korte opklaring – Mercurius te strikken. Eind goed al goed. Hop naar 2032!

Groepsfoto net voor het inpakken.

Foto’s: Koen Van de Auwera, Dirk Van Luyten en Jef De Wit

Tekst: Jef De Wit

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