On June 5/6, 2012, most of the world will have the chance to see all – or part – of a once-in-a-lifetime event – a transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. CAUTION: To view this, even with the naked eye, you must use proper protective filters. Binoculars and telescopes must be equipped with such filters and if not, used only to safely project an image of the event – not looked through.
That said, here are three shots simulating the event as seen from Westport, MA. From this East Coast location we will see only the first couple of hours of the transit, then our view will be interrupted by sunset. Notice that Venus will appear to enter near the “top” of the Sun, This location and path vary with your position on Earth. (At the end of this post are several links. The second of these links gives you specific information on the time and the path of Venus across the Sun as seen from your location. In the images below, the Sun is festooned with sunspots and other features. Such features may or may not be seen depending on what is happening on the Sun at the time of the transit and on the type of solar filter used to view the event.
Did you find the images exciting? Probably not. But it should give you some idea of what to look for on June 5, and there is no substitute for seeing the real thing as it happens. There’s also no substitute for understanding what it is you’re viewing and why – besides the fact that there won’t be another such transit for more than a century. No wonder so many people are very excited about seeing it. I’ve already seen one such transit – as have many others – for these events come in pairs fairly close together, and the last one was visible just eight years ago. But I still will make every effort to see this one, and if the weather forecast says my local view is likely to be obscured by clouds, I’m ready to drive a couple of hundred miles to get to some place that’s clear.
Here, in a nutshell, is why I find this event so exciting:
- There won’t be another chance to see a transit of Venus until 2117.
- On display will be the full majesty - and magic – of our gravitationally-powered solar system where Venus – a body almost as large as the Earth – passes directly between us and the Sun at a distance of bout 30 million miles.
- More than 200 years ago many scientists risked life and limb to travel to distant locations on the Earth in attempts to view the transit and accurately time it. Such observations, they hoped, would unlock the secrets of the size of our solar system – secrets that despite their best efforts remained hidden. As noted in the New York Times, “Sea travel was so risky in 1761 that observers took separate ships to the same destination to increase the chances some of them would make it alive.”
Some useful transit links
- how to view safely
- get all the local transit time information here
- here is a terrific explanation of why such transts are so rare – be sure to watch the two-minute video
- this is a great explanation of the science history – with the emphasis on the word science
- and here’s a more thorough description of the transit expeditions of the 18th and 19th centuries
- finally, don’t miss the history of the 18th century attempt to view the transit described in this NYT book review, and this simulation of a 19th century photographic observation is brief, but fascinating
- there are fabulous classroom exercises available to make the most out of the transit whether you’re in a classroom or not!
- if you want to attempt to photograph the transit, read this
- and in case you’re clouded out, or can’t see it from your location – go to the web cast of the event here