Rare Transit of Venus to Occur Tonight

Tuesday, 05 Jun 2012 11:05 AM

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Solar enthusiasts are preparing for today’s transit of Venus, an astronomical event that won't occur again for 105 years and an event that that has happened only seven times since the telescope was invented.

“In a sense, it is an eclipse,” Summer Ash, director of outreach for Columbia University’s astronomy department, told the New York Times. “It’s the same phenomenon. It’s just that Venus is so much farther away than the Moon.”

An explanation by Wired magazine describes the event as follows: Planetary transit “occurs when a planet passes directly between the sun and the Earth. This alignment can only occur between Earth and either Mercury or Venus since their planetary orbits lie closer to the sun then our own. Since Mercury orbits very close to the Sun, we can observe its transit every 13 to 14 years. Venus, on the other hand, has a tilted orbit with respect to the celestial plane, so being in the correct alignment to view a transit is a lot more rare, and won’t happen again till the year 2117.”

During the event, Venus will look like a small black dot crossing the sun’s surface, the magazine explained, with its diameter about 1/30th the diameter of the sun. “In comparison it will look like a grape crossing in front of a watermelon. The transit might not seem visually exciting, but watching the black dot cross the solar surface is a really cool,” Wired said.

NASA’s Web site will be live-streaming the transit from an observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii starting at 5:30 p.m., Eastern time, according to the Times.

Americans can see the transit at sunset on Tuesday.


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