The Transit of Venus Approaches
- Jay Ryan ClassicalAstronomy.com
- 2004 2 Jun
Venus is still shining brightly as "The Evening Star" in the western sky after sunset. But over the next weeks, Venus will do a power dive toward the sunset, and will soon disappear into the Sun's bright glare. Be sure to catch Venus while you can, since its evening apparition is fast drawing to a close!
We've been looking forward to the upcoming Transit of Venus for several months. And now the date is fast approaching, and the media is starting to talk about it! On June 8, 2004, the planet Venus will pass directly in front of the Sun. At this time, Venus will be seen as a little black dot that will move across the face of the Sun over the span of about six hours -- sort of like a solar eclipse, except with this planet instead of the Moon.
This event is a rare "transit" of Venus. These transits occur in pairs separated by eight years, but only a single transit pair occurs in more than a century! The last transit of Venus was in 1882. There is no one alive who saw the last one, but the next one will occur in a couple weeks! And this event has been long-awaited by astronomy buffs. I've been awaiting the date "June 8, 2004" since way back when the years of the 21st century seemed like "the distant future"!
Transit Viewing Conditions Around the World
Clear skies permitting, this event will be easily visible from Europe, Africa and Asia. The Far East and Australia will be able to see most of the transit in the late afternoon, local time, and the transit will still be in progress at sunset. It might be an interesting sight to see the Sun go down with the black dot of Venus on its face!
However, the transit will cleanly miss New Zealand. It appears that the very beginning of the transit can be seen just before sunset along the North Cape, to the North of Auckland. And there's a chance that a tiny bit of the transit may be seen at sunset from the southwestern coast of the South Island of NZ.
For most of the Americas, the end of the transit will be visible at sunrise and for a while in the early morning. Here in Cleveland, we can expect to see the transit for the first hour after sunrise. Points East will see it longer, and points west will see it shorter.
There will be a line of the limit of the transit, where the transit ends at sunrise. The line will pass from eastern Texas up through Montana, into Alberta, Canada and up into northern Alaska. The line will extend south through Mexico and through Argentina. Those east of the line can see some of the transit, including Brazil and most of Central America. Points west of this line, including the West Coast and southern Alaska, will miss the transit completely.
For more info on sighting the transit, check out this page from the Sky & Telescope site.
All the info you could ask for on the transit is found at this link:
Observing the Transit
If you wish to see this transit, the most important thing you need to remember is DON'T LOOK AT THE SUN!!! You won't see anything anyway since the Sun is so bright and Venus would be small and inconspicuous to the unaided eye. But staring at the Sun will hurt your eyes and can even destroy your vision. And don't look with an unfiltered telescope or binoculars either, since optics will do even more and quicker damage to your eyes.
Only look through a telescope if the owners know what they're doing, that is, if the *lens or mirror* is properly covered with a suitable solar filter. DO NOT look if there is only a filter on the eyepiece since this is not enough filtering to protect your eyes.
You might want to check with a planetarium or telescope club in your area. These groups will likely have properly-filtered telescopes set up for the event. A list of such local groups can be found in the "Resources" section at http://skyandtelescope.com. Now is the time to make a plan and beat the rush. This event will be getting lots or press closer to the time, and available slots may fill up.
Our family is planning on observing this event with Eclipse Shades. These shades are specially designed for looking at the Sun and block out 99.9% of the Sun's light, and allow you to safely look at the Sun. During the transit, Venus will appear quite small, but will be seen as a black dot moving across the Sun's face over a period of hours.
We've acquired a quantity of these Eclipse Shades and are selling them at the Classical Astronomy Store. If anyone would like a pair or two, now is a good time to order, since supplies are limited. And you can always use these shades any other time to look at the Sun, especially to see sunspots. And these are nice to have around the next time there is a solar eclipse!
Jay Ryan is the author of "The Classical Astronomy Update," a free e-mail newsletter for helping Christian homeschool families learn more about events in the starry sky. If you would like to receive the Update, please drop Jay an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the Classical Astronomy web site – www.ClassicalAstronomy.com