Transit (astronomy)

In astronomy, a transit (or astronomical transit) is a phenomenon when a celestial body passes directly between a larger body and the observer. As viewed from a particular vantage point, the transiting body appears to move across the face of the larger body, covering a small portion of it.[1]

The word "transit" refers to cases where the nearer object appears smaller than the more distant object. Cases where the nearer object appears larger and completely hides the more distant object are known as occultations.

However, the probability of a seeing a transiting planet is low because it is dependent on the alignment of the three objects in a nearly perfectly straight line.[2] Many parameters can be determined by about a planet and its host star based on the transit

A solar transit of the Moon captured during calibration of the STEREO B spacecraft's ultraviolet imaging. The Moon appears much smaller than it does when seen from Earth, because the spacecraft–Moon separation was several times greater than the Earth–Moon distance.

In the Solar System

Jupiter-io-transit feb 10 2009
A simulation of Io transiting Jupiter as seen from the Earth in February 2009. Io's shadow is seen on the surface of Jupiter, leading Io slightly due to the sun and Earth not being in the same line.

One example of a transit involves the motion of a planet between a terrestrial observer and the Sun. This can happen only with inferior planets, namely Mercury and Venus (see transit of Mercury and transit of Venus). However, because a transit is dependent on the point of observation, the Earth itself transits the Sun if observed from Mars. In the solar transit of the Moon captured during calibration of the STEREO B spacecraft's ultraviolet imaging, the Moon appears much smaller than it does when seen from Earth, because the spacecraft–Moon separation was several times greater than the Earth–Moon distance.

The term can also be used to describe the motion of a satellite across its parent planet, for instance one of the Galilean satellites (Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto) across Jupiter, as seen from Earth.

Although rare, cases where four bodies are lined up do happen. One of these events occurred on 27 June 1586, when Mercury transited the Sun as seen from Venus at the same time as a transit of Mercury from Saturn and a transit of Venus from Saturn.

Notable observations

No missions were planned to coincide with the transit of Earth visible from Mars on 11 May 1984 and the Viking missions had been terminated a year previously. Consequently, the next opportunity to observe such an alignment will be in 2084.

On December 21, 2012, the Cassini–Huygens probe, in orbit around Saturn, observed the planet Venus transiting the Sun.[3]

On 3 June 2014, the Mars rover Curiosity observed the planet Mercury transiting the Sun, marking the first time a planetary transit has been observed from a celestial body besides Earth.[4]

Mutual planetary transits

In rare cases, one planet can pass in front of another. If the nearer planet appears smaller than the more distant one, the event is called a mutual planetary transit.

2012 Transit of Venus from SF

Transit of Venus as seen from Earth, 2012

PIA02879 - A New Year for Jupiter and Io

Io transits across Jupiter as seen by Cassini spacecraft


Mercury transiting the Sun, seen from Curiosity rover on Mars (June 3, 2014).

Dark side of the Moon

The Moon transiting in front of Earth, seen by Deep Space Climate Observatory on 4 August 2015.

Outside the Solar System

Exoplanet Detection

Light curve of binary star Kepler-16
The light curve shows the change in Luminosity of star as a result of transiting. The data was collected from the Kepler mission.

The transit method can be used to discover exoplanets. As a planet eclipses/transits its host star it will block a portion of the light from the star. If the planet transits in-between the star and the observer the change in light can be measured to construct a light curve. Light curves are measured with a charged-coupled device. The light curve of a star can disclose several physical characteristics of the planet and star, such as, density. Multiple transit events must be measure to determine the characteristics which tend to occur at regular intervals if the others only one planet. Multiple planets orbiting the same host star can cause Transit Time Variations(TTV). TTV is cause by the gravitational forces of all orbiting bodies acting upon each other. The probability of seeing a transit from Earth is low, however. The probability is given by the following equation.


Where Rstar and Rplanet is the radius of the star and planet, respectfully. The semi major axis length represented by a. Because of low probability large selections of the sky must be regularly observed in order to see a transit. Hot Jupiters are more likely to be seen because of their larger radius and short semi major. In order to find earth size planets red dwarf stars are observed because of their small radius. Even though transiting has a low probability it has proven itself to be a good technique in discovering exoplanets.

In recent years, the discovery of extrasolar planets has excited interest in the possibility of detecting their transits across their own stellar primaries. HD 209458b was the first such transiting planet to be detected.

The transit of celestial objects is one of the few key phenomena used today for the study of exoplanetary systems. Today, transit photometry is the leading form of exoplanet discovery.[6] As exoplanets move in front of its host stars there is a dimming in the luminosity of its host star that can be measured. [7] Larger planets make the dip in luminosity more noticeable and easier to detect. Followup observations are often done to ensure it is a planet through other methods of detecting exoplanets.

There are currently (December 2018) 2345 planets confirmed with Kepler light curves for stellar host.[8]

Exoplanets found by different search methods each year through 2018, transit method in purple.


During a transit there are four "contacts", when the circumference of the small circle (small body disk) touches the circumference of the large circle (large body disk) at a single point. Historically, measuring the precise time of each point of contact was one of the most accurate ways to determine the positions of astronomical bodies. The contacts happen in the following order:

  • First contact: the smaller body is entirely outside the larger body, moving inward ("exterior ingress")
  • Second contact: the smaller body is entirely inside the larger body, moving further inward ("interior ingress")
  • Third contact: the smaller body is entirely inside the larger body, moving outward ("interior egress")
  • Fourth contact: the smaller body is entirely outside the larger body, moving outward ("exterior egress")[9]

A fifth named point is that of greatest transit, when the apparent centers of the two bodies are nearest to each other, halfway through the transit.[9]


Since transit photometry allows for scanning large celestial areas with a simple procedure, it has been the most popular and successful form of finding exoplanets in the past decade and includes many projects, some of which have already been retired, others in use today, and some in progress of being planned and created. The most successful projects include HATNet, KELT, Kepler, and WASP, and some new and developmental stage missions such as TESS, HATPI, and others which can be found among the List of Exoplanet Search Projects.


HATNet Project is a set of northern telescopes in Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Arizona and Mauna Kea Observatories, HI, and southern telescopes around the globe, in Africa, Australia, and South America, under the HATSouth branch of the project.[10] These are small aperture telescopes, just like KELT, and look at a wide field which allows them to scan a large area of the sky for possible transiting planets. I addition, their multitude and spread around the world allows for 24/7 observation of the sky so that more short-period transits can be caught.[11]

A third sub-project, HATPI, is currently under construction and will survey most of the night sky seen from its location in Chile.[12]


KELT is a terrestrial telescope mission designed to search for transiting systems of planets of magnitude 8<M<10. It began operation in October 2004 in Winer Observatory and has a southern companion telescope added in 2009.[13] KELT North observes "26-degree wide strip of sky that is overhead from North America during the year", while KELT South observes single target areas of the size 26 by 26 degrees. Both telescopes dan detect and identify transit events as small as a 1% flux dip, which allows for detection of planetary systems similar to those in our solar system.[14][15]

Kepler / K2

The Kepler satellite served the Kepler mission between March 7, 2009 and May 11, 2013, where it observed one part of the sky in search of transiting planets within a 115 square degrees of the sky around the Cygnus, Lyra, and Draco constellations.[16] After that, the satellite continued operating until November 15, 2018, this time changing its field along the ecliptic to a new area roughly every 75 days due to reaction wheel failure.[17]


TESS was launched on April 18, 2018, and is planned to survey most of the sky by observing it strips defined along the right ascension lines for 27 days each. Each area surveyed is 27 by 90 degrees. Because of the positioning of sections, the area near TESS's rotational axis will be surveyed for up to 1 year, allowing for the identification of planetary systems with longer orbital periods.

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of TRANSIT". Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  2. ^ "Transit Method | Las Cumbres Observatory". Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  3. ^ Cassini Spacecraft Tracks Venus Transit From Saturn, Space Coast Daily. Retrieved on 2016-02-08.
  4. ^ Webster, Guy (June 10, 2014). "Mercury Passes in Front of the Sun, as Seen From Mars". NASA. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  5. ^ Asher,, Johnson, John. How do you find an exoplanet?. Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 9780691156811. OCLC 908083548.
  6. ^ Asher,, Johnson, John. How do you find an exoplanet?. Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 9780691156811. OCLC 908083548.
  7. ^ "Transit Photometry". Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  8. ^ "Exoplanet Archive Planet Counts". Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  9. ^ a b "Transit of Venus – Safety". University of Central Lancashire. Archived from the original on 25 September 2006. Retrieved 21 September 2006.
  10. ^ "The HATNet Exoplanet Survey". Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  11. ^ "The HAT Exoplanet Surveys". Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  12. ^ "The HATPI Project". Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  13. ^ Pepper, J.; Pogge, R.; Depoy, D. L.; Marshall, J. L.; Stanek, K.; Stutz, A.; Trueblood, M.; Trueblood, P. (2007-07-01). "Early Results from the KELT Transit Survey". 366. eprint: arXiv:astro-ph/0611947: 27.
  14. ^ "KELT-North: Method". Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  15. ^ Stassun, Keivan; James, David; Siverd, Robert; Kuhn, Rudolf B.; Pepper, Joshua (2012-03-07). "The KELT-South Telescope*". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 124 (913): 230. doi:10.1086/665044. ISSN 1538-3873.
  16. ^ Johnson, Michele (2015-04-13). "Mission overview". NASA. Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  17. ^ Fortney, Jonathan J.; Twicken, J. D.; Smith, Marcie; Najita, Joan R.; Miglio, Andrea; Marcy, Geoffrey W.; Huber, Daniel; Cochran, William D.; Chaplin, William J. (2014-04-01). "The K2 Mission: Characterization and Early Results". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 126 (938): 398. doi:10.1086/676406. ISSN 1538-3873.

External links


Kepler-447b is a confirmed exoplanet. The planet's mass and radius indicate that it is a gas giant with a bulk composition similar to that of Jupiter. Unlike Jupiter, but similar to many planets detected around other stars, Kepler-447b is located very close to its star, and belongs to the class of planets known as hot Jupiters. It has an extremely grazing transit, a property that could be used to detect further properties such as perturbations of the orbit due to other nearby objects or stellar pulsations.

Transit of Venus

A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and a superior planet, becoming visible against (and hence obscuring a small portion of) the solar disk. During a transit, Venus can be seen from Earth as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. The duration of such transits is usually several hours (the transit of 2012 lasted 6 hours and 40 minutes). A transit is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon. While the diameter of Venus is more than three times that of the Moon, Venus appears smaller, and travels more slowly across the face of the Sun, because it is much farther away from Earth.

Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena. They occur in a pattern that generally repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years. The periodicity is a reflection of the fact that the orbital periods of Earth and Venus are close to 8:13 and 243:395 commensurabilities.The last transit of Venus was on 5 and 6 June 2012, and was the last Venus transit of the 21st century; the prior transit took place on 8 June 2004. The previous pair of transits were in December 1874 and December 1882. The next transits of Venus will take place on 10–11 December 2117, and 8 December 2125.Venus transits are historically of great scientific importance as they were used to gain the first realistic estimates of the size of the Solar System. Observations of the 1639 transit, combined with the principle of parallax, provided an estimate of the distance between the Sun and the Earth that was more accurate than any other up to that time. The 2012 transit provided scientists with a number of other research opportunities, particularly in the refinement of techniques to be used in the search for exoplanets.

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