Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Once in a lifetime...

is such an overused expression.  But today folks over most of the world have an opportunity to view a true "once in a lifetime event."  The Transit of Venus!  I know, exciting right?  What, pray-tell, is the Transit of Venus?  It's when Venus passes between the Earth and Sun and is visible crossing the disk of the sun.

WARNING!: Once in a lifetime events do NOT give us license to be stupid.  DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN! You won't be able to see it anyway, given that Venus will appear approx 1/32 the size of the Sun.  And you may not be able to see anything afterwards.  (Safe viewing tips below.)

What's the big deal, anyway?  Well, this rare astronomical event occurs in pairs (the last was in 1999) and the next won't be until 2117!!

Wait, I thought you said this was once in a lifetime?  You just said it happened in 1999.. Right... it wasn't  once in a lifetime then, it was twice in a lifetime.  Duh. Clearly that's why I didn't blog about it then (and I was too busy partying with Price.)

OK, so it happens once every century (or twice, or whatever) why should I care? Aren't planets and stars and stuff constantly circling the sun?  Planets, yes. Stars, no. (maybe visit the planetarium? today would be a good day.)  This particular event was instrumental in measuring the size of the solar system! And was arguably responsible for making our exploration of Space a reality.

OK, OK, I'm convinced.  How do I view this awe inspiring display of celestial clockwork?

First you have to NOT be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

If you're lucky, you get an awesome sunset view like the image above.  If not, you have a couple of options.

  • #14 Welding glass or Eclipse Shades  (Welding Glass available at local Welding Supply shops, Big Box Stores (Home Depot, etc) or Farm Supply Stores)  You'll need some pretty darn good eyes to Venus transit the Sun though.  We're not talking lunar eclipse here.  Much, much smaller.
  • Visit your local Planetarium.  If you're reading about this for the first time, you're probably out of luck.  Space geeks probably have all the spots reserved. Probably a pretty rockin' time though.
  • A Pinhole projector.  This is one of the few ways the non-planners can see the transit of they are interested.  Given the size of the silhouette on the disk of the SUN, your mileage may vary.  Pinhole projectors can be elaborate or simple.  You can even use your hands. Just hold up both hands with your fingers overlapping at right angles. The holes between your fingers make pinholes.

  • Project the image with Binoculars or a Telescope.

Thank You NASA!!

So, get your Geek on and take part in a truly once in a lifetime event.

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