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On November 7, 1631 Pierre Gassendi saw the transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun. How did he see it? I mean what instrument was used to reduce the apparent brightness of the Sun?

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I won't answer as I don't know the answer, but if I was doing it now, I'd use a pin-hole projection box. Cheap and easy to make with materials you find around the home. –  dmckee Nov 7 '11 at 20:05

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@dmckee guessed correctly. From An excerpt from an address delivered before Section A of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on August 23, 1882, by Prof. Win. Harkness, Chairman of the Section, and Vice President of the Association: (ref)

He was destitute of what would now be regarded as the commonest instruments. The invention of telescopes was only twenty years old, and a reasonably good clock had never been constructed. His observatory was situated in Paris, and its appliances were of the most primitive kind. By admitting the solar rays into a darkened room through a small round hole, an image of the Sun nine or ten inches in diameter was obtained upon a white screen. For the measurement of position angles a carefully divided circle was traced upon this screen, and the whole was so arranged that the circle could be made to coincide accurately with the image of the Sun. To determine the times of ingress and egress, an assistant was stationed outside with a large quadrant, and he was instructed to observe the altitude of the sun whenever Gassendi stamped upon the floor.

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Thanks for the ref! –  Shashank Sawant Nov 8 '11 at 20:01

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