The 2012 Transit of Venus

These few weeks have been exciting for celestial phenomena. First there was the annular solar eclipse of May 20th a couple of week ago. I took some pictures of that one. I will post those as soon as I download them from the trusty old camera. Second, yesterday there was a partial eclipse of “the strawberry moon” — so called because during June they harvest strawberries. I missed it (not the harvest but the moon) because it has been cloudy and raining around here. In any case, here’s a video explaining the strawberry moon eclipse.

And now for the final of three shows. Today, June 5th 2012 (PST), we will have the solar transit of Venus. As Science at NASA puts it, “one little black spot on the sun, sure can cause a lot of fuss.”

This is where the Venus transit will be visible across the globe.

The last Venus transit occurred on June 8th, 2004, and the next one will be in 2117. It’s our last chance to catch it because for sure we will not be around to see it the next time Venus comes directly between the earth and the sun.

It makes me wonder. Most of us will be history by the next transit of Venus. But I am quite certain that there are people alive today — mostly children — who will be around in 2117. In about 50 years, biomedical technology would have advanced enough that life expectancy would be around 100 years or more, and some people at least would live hundreds of years.

Here’s a graphic of the path of Venus across the broad face of the sun in 2008 and 2012.

Good news! You can watch the transit from the comfort of your own home. Foxnew.com has a list of resources for that.

Viewers who decide to tune into a webcast will be able to watch the entire transit unfold, as Venus appears to touch the outer edge of the sun, then travels onto the face, before crossing the inside edge and continuing along its orbit.

NASA will be hosting a Sun-Earth Day webcast on June 5 that will last the entire length of the Venus transit. The footage will stream live from the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, with accompanying commentary from various experts. Times are subject to change, but the webcast is currently scheduled to begin at 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT). [Transit of Venus 2012: An Observer’s Guide.]

People can tune in to NASA’s Venus transit broadcast by visiting the agency’s Sun-Earth Day website.
. . .
Another option is the webcast hosted by San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The museum will showcase a 6.5-hour live event with telescope feeds from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This footage will be accompanied by audio commentary every 30 minutes, according to officials at the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium webcast will begin at 6:09 p.m. EDT (2210 GMT) and last until 12:49 a.m. EDT June 6 (0445 GMT June 6).

People are invited to watch the webcast on large screens at the museum (during museum hours), or online at http://www.exploratorium.edu/venus.

Astronomers Without Borders will also be broadcasting the transit live from the Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, Calif., where astronomer Edwin Hubble worked to explain the expanding universe and the nature of galaxies.

The webcast will include interviews with experts and amateur astronomers. Members of the Antique Telescope Society will use vintage telescopes to observe the transit, just as predecessors in the 18th and 19th centuries did.

More information on the webcast, plus how to view it, is available on the Astronomers Without Borders homepage.

So that’s what’s going on up in the skies above our heads. While on the topic, I have always been fascinated with the moon illusion. I clearly remember the day when I first learned that it was just an illusion. I was in high school and a professor of physics, one Prof Natarajan, explained to me that it just appeared bigger near the horizon than when it was higher in the sky. Even after all these years, I still have fun relaying that bit of knowledge to others. People are as incredulous on learning it as I was then. If you did not know about the moon illusion, leave a comment.

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