The sky is its own kind of clock…and map! Almost every night I go outside at dusk and again later in the evening to at least check out the moon! I like to see where it sits in the sky and watch it move around a bit both seasonally and in its different phases, and armed with a little information I am equally impressed with the visible planets. For a sky-watcher like me, this has been quite a special four weeks. We had the Supermoon in early May, the Annular Solar Eclipse in late May and now in the first week of June we have the extremely rare Transit of Venus.
I am far from educated in the field of Astronomy. I don’t actually know that much about what I observe, but I can appreciate! I do make careful attempts to gain some qualified knowledge, and one of my favorite sources is the website earthsky.org. Between that and a NASA app I at least know when it’s time to begin doing a little research.
So when I first began to hear of the Transit’s rare occurrence on the 5th and 6th of June, I had to do some reading. I got a little stuck on the first article I read. A typo suggested I wouldn’t be alive in 2,017. I must have been particularly fatigued because I read it over and over again trying to understand why the author thought I (we) only had five more years to live. But reading further, no, this celestial event will next take place in 2117. I don’t have anything on my calendar 105 years from now, do you?
What is a transit? I’ll repeat the part that I can actually understand. At its most basic element, a transit of Venus takes place when the planet passes directly between the Sun and Earth. It is actually visible against the sun, appearing as a black dot. Sadly, once again I have been asleep at the switch and didn’t purchase my #14 welder’s glasses, recommended eyewear if you intend to witness this phenomenon. I am delighted to note; however that a simple google search revealed web-events promising opportunities to follow along. This live link should give you a little head start on the google searching! Rare Transit of Venus: How to Watch Online | Venus Transit 2012 Webcasts | Space.com.
In some ways the occurrence is compared to a solar eclipse by the Moon, but Transits of Venus are much more rare. They occur with pairs of transits eight years apart, separated by 121 and 105 years. The last transit took place on June 8, 2004, and the previous pair of transits were in December 1874 and December 1882.
I’ve included a wonderfully informative NASA video that can reinforce how rare and special this is, but also gives a very quick history of how these previous transits have been used to determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun which also contributed to knowledge about the size of the Solar System.
This is a BIG deal!
The first known observation of a transit of Venus was in 1639. Jeremiah Horrocks observed one from his home near Preston in England. From his estimations of the exact time the transit was to begin and focusing the image of the Sun through a simple telescope onto a piece of paper, Horrocks’ observations allowed him to make a well-informed guess as to the size of Venus and an estimate of the distance between the earth and the Sun. He estimated the distance as 59.4 million miles, or two thirds of the actual distance of 93 million miles. This was a more accurate figure than any previously suggested up to that time. 1639! And I need a child’s tutorial to even scratch the surface of understanding!
So what will this final transit show today’s astronomers? I’ll tell you what? Just google Transit of Venus 2012 and take a look at the list of scientific organizations all poised and ready. Anticipation is running high! I’d say they are salivating! After all, the next pair of transits, December 2117 and December 2125, will only be partially visible in the western United States, Europe and Africa–China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia will do much better! Living in Los Angeles, I’m bound to miss out!
Enjoy a little break from all the other chaos in the news and look up at the sky…I guarantee it’s a good pause to help you breathe lighter.
- Tips on how to safely watch the transit of Venus (sacbee.com)
- Are You Ready for the Transit of Venus This Tuesday? (newsfeedoftoday.wordpress.com)