The Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) aboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory observed the transits of Mercury on 2003 May 7 and 2006 November 8. Contact times between Mercury and the solar limb have been used since the seventeenth century to derive the Sun's size but this is the first time that high-quality imagery from space, above the Earth's atmosphere, has been available. Unlike other measurements, this technique is largely independent of optical distortion. The true solar radius is still a matter of debate in the literature as measured differences of several tenths of an arcsecond (i.e., about 500 km) are apparent. This is due mainly to systematic errors from different instruments and observers since the claimed uncertainties for a single instrument are typically an order of magnitude smaller. From the MDI transit data we find the solar radius to be 960farcs12 ± 0farcs09 (696, 342 ± 65 km). This value is consistent between the transits and consistent between different MDI focus settings after accounting for systematic effects.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- May 2012
- Sun: fundamental parameters;
- Sun: photosphere;
- Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics
- Accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal (2012 March 5)