Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Transit of Venus

Did you get to see the Transit of Venus today?  I hope so since this was the last time we would get to see one in our lifetime.  The next time a Transit of Venus occurs it will be in December 2117.  What is the Transit of Venus?  It is an event where the planet Venus passes between the sun and earth.  Venus appears as a tiny dot moving across the face of the sun.  The last transit occurred in June 2004.

"Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena.  They occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years." "Transits usually occur in pairs, on nearly the same date eight years apart. This is because the length of eight Earth years is almost the same as 13 years on Venus, so every eight years the planets are in roughly the same relative positions."

The Transit of Venus historically was important in helping to determine the size of the solar system.  Even Captain James Cook set out on a voyage to Tahiti to view the Transit of Venus.  This year, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station was going to photograph it from space for the first time.

Obviously, looking directly at the sun can be dangerous to unprotected eyes and it probably wouldn't yield any specific features.

Unprotected view of the sun during the transit.

I searched the web for ideas to view the transit safely.  I did not have binoculars to use as a sun projector.   I tried the pin-hole camera that I made for the solar eclipse a few weeks ago but that did not yield any details of the sun on the projected image.  I basically resigned myself to watching a live feed from atop Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawai`i.  It didn't turn out too badly since it is always nice to see something from Hawai`i and I got to enjoy the commentary that was given by scientists.

View of the transit from my computer.
Even my 2-year old got into it.  I figured that this would be his one and only chance to see it so I sat him in front of the computer to watch it.  After a few minutes, he kept saying "Transit of Venus" while pointing to the computer screen.  He accidently shut the computer off and cried when he could no longer see the "transit of Venus."  It was really cute and I may have a budding astronomer on my hands!

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