Venus transits the sun tomorrow and you should watch!

June 4, 2012

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about our planetary next door neighbor Venus transiting the sun tomorrow.

  • What does this mean?
    It means that from Earth’s perspective, Venus will appear as a small black dot moving across in front of the sun. It will be visible with out magnification, HOWEVER YOU MUST USE SPECIALLY DESIGNED EYE PROTECTION TO LOOK AT THE SUN. Seriously, you should never, EVER look directly at the sun- it could permanently damage your eyes! Here’s NASA’s page dedicated to safe sun viewing. Go read and learn how to do this safely! The transit will begin a little after 5pm Central Daylight Time and still be in progress when the sun sets on the western horizon. There are also tons of websites which will be streaming a live image of the sun, so you can watch it online quite easily. The best place is probably NASA’s website dedicated to this transit, but there’s also Bad Astronomy. Also of interest: 5 Weird Facts about Venus, and this guy who seems confident the space tourism industry will become cheap enough during most of our lifetimes that average middle class people will be able to afford a ride to a spot in space where we can see another transit, along with many other interesting things. I sure hope so! I think he might be a bit too optimistic, however…
  • Why should you care?
    Well, you should care because you probably won’t be alive the next time it happens (from Earth’s view at least, 105 years from now). The reason it’s so rare is that despite what a lot of 2-D diagrams would have you believe, the planets in our solar system aren’t all exactly on the same plane, and none have a perfectly circular orbit. The orbits range from slightly elliptical to very elliptical, and all are at some degree of angle compared to the plane of Earth’s orbit. Therefore, the angle of Venus’ orbit causes it to only pass directly between the sun and Earth very rarely. The transits occur in pairs about 8 years apart, and those pairs only occur every 105 or 121 years.

So at the very least watch it happen online if you don’t have access to a telescope with a sun filter or sun safety glasses. It won’t be as spectacular as a comet in the night sky, or a solar or lunar eclipse, but it’s still a very rare event and worth seeing.

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