Burnley stargazers can follow in the footsteps of Richard Towneley when Planet Mercury transits the sun

The planet Mercury
The planet Mercury

A rare astronomical event - the planet Mercury transiting the sun - once observed 300 years ago when it was recorded by Burnley gentleman Richard Towneley, is set to happen again on Monday.

Present day amateur astronomer, and coincidentally Towneley Hall volunteer, Derek Hartley contacted the Burnley Express to alert the town's residents to the phenomenon, which will occur from noon to around 3pm this Monday.

Sungazers will need a powerful telescope looking west to observe the planet passing the sun on Monday afternoon, weather conditions permitting.

The transit was famously observed on November 7th, 1677, by Richard Towneley in Lancashire. Richard, who is credited with inventing the deadbeat escapement used in two clocks in the Greenwich Observatory, was a member of Burnley's prominent Catholic landed gentry family who originally lived in Towneley Hall.

Proud Burnley resident Derek, a former fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, praised Richard Towneley, who lived from 1629 to 1707, and credited him as "the country's first weatherman."

He said: "Richard Towneley is something of a hero of mine. He was a very talented astronomer who was quite an unsung hero of his time. I think but for his Catholicism he could have become a leading member of the Royal Society and gained more credit for his work.

"The transit of Mercury across the sun is quite a rare event, and it's not expected to happen again for another 100 years. Anyone interested will need a good telescope but also a piece of white paper or cardboard to project the images clearly.

"They will see a black spot (Mercury) going across the sun. There's a very good astronomy centre in Todmorden which I would recommend people get in touch with for further information."