June 3, 2012
Most people don’t begin the week with thoughts of staring directly at the sun, but this week is different.
That’s because Venus, the second planet in our solar system, is going to be visible as a small black circle with the sun behind it for almost seven hours, beginning Tuesday at 3:09 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
It is a rare phenomenon, occurring in pairs about every 120 years. The transit last occurred in 2004 as the first half of the 21st-century pair. The next Transit of Venus will not occur until December of 2117.
The first scientific observation of the celestial event occurred in 1639, when careful measurements helped determine the distance from the earth to the sun. Additional transits were observed in 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and 2004.
According to NASA, “The timing favors observers in the mid-Pacific where the sun is high overhead during the crossing. In the USA, the transit will be at its best around sunset.” NASA goes onto say that “creative photographers will have a field day imaging the swollen red sun ‘punctured’ by the circular disk of Venus.”
As with the recent solar eclipse of May 20 or any event that may spark an interest in looking at the sun, proper eye protection is crucial. NASA reminds anyone who may be interested in viewing to avoid looking at the sun. The agency suggests using a projection technique or a solar filter, such as No. 14 welders’ glass. It also suggests contacting local observatories or astronomy clubs to see about special programs that may be scheduled.
While not visible from every spot on Earth, the Transit of Venus will be visible from all seven continents.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is going to be monitoring the skies and will release top-quality images.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that solar glasses are a hot commodity as people prepare for what will likely be the last Transit of Venus that anyone alive today will witness.
Note: A NASA image was used for this report.
Transit of Venus: Solar glasses are a hot commodity, L.A. Times, June 3, 2012
NASA, The 2012 Transit of Venus, May 24, 2012 (includes short, informative video).
Wikipedia entry on the Transit of Venus