Every now and then a sky event occurs that is not just out of this world, but happens only once in a lifetime. A "transit" is the name given when two objects line up in a straight line with the observer. When one object is passing directly in front of another object from your point of view, we call this a transit.
Other "transits" you may have heard of are lunar and solar eclipses. In a lunar eclipse, from the point of view of the Sun, the Earth will transit the Moon. In a solar eclipse, a transit of the Moon across the Sun from the viewpoint of the Earth occurs.
So why are we telling you this? Mark your calendars. One of the rarest of the predictable events in astronomy is about to happen. This rare astronomical event is the transit of Venus. During a Venus transit, the planet Venus will appear as a tiny shadow slowly moving across the face of the Sun, so a Venus transit is really a solar eclipse by the planet Venus. For more than six hours, people of the Earth will witness a perfect lineup of the Sun, Venus and the Earth. As luck would have it, part of the Venus transit can be seen in the Ohio Valley late in the afternoon of June 5 until the Sun (and Venus) set.
The last time Earth witnessed a Venus transit was (for the Ohio Valley) on the morning of June 8, 2004. Venus transits come in pairs almost to the day, eight years apart. The next Venus transit pair will occur on Dec. 10, 2117 (105 years from now) and eight years later on Dec. 8, 2125.
The best way to safely view the Venus transit event with your family and friends is to attend the Venus Transit StarWatch starting at 6 p.m. June 5. Members of the SMART-Center, Near Earth Object Foundation, SMART Centre Market, ASTROLABE Astronomy Club, with the help of Grand Vue Park, are scheduling the public event at Grand Vue Park's Zip Line Adventure Area in Moundsville. The public can safely watch the Venus transit using telescopes with solar filters and using safe solar projection methods.
Venus will first start its transit across the face of the Sun just a few minutes after 6 p.m. local time. Make sure you get there early (before 5:45 p.m.) so you do not miss a chance to see the "black drop effect" as the disk of Venus fully enters the Sun's disk.
Safety, Safety, Safety
If you do not attend the Venus Transit StarWatch at Grand Vue Park, or if you do not have access to someone who can safely perform solar projection with a telescope or has a telescope with an approved astronomical solar filter, DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN. Permanent eye damage can and will occur to your eyes if you look at the Sun.
Unless you attend the event or use the proper equipment, the only way to safely view the Venus transit is to view the Sun through a Grade 14 welder's glass or view the transit with approved official solar eclipse viewing glasses. Approved official solar eclipse viewing glasses can be purchased at SMART Centre Market in the Centre Market district in Wheeling.
Things Not to Do
There are three bad and dangerous ideas you may have heard about for looking at the Sun. DO NOT DO ANY OF THESE. PERMANENT DAMAGE TO YOUR EYES MAY RESULT.
Bottom line: Use only official astronomical filters over the objective opening of a telescope - anything else, will risk permanent eye damage.
After the Sun sets, the Venus transit will continue, but for us here in the Ohio Valley the setting Sun will be the start of Phase II of the public Venus Transit StarWatch. We will be observing the innermost and elusive planet Mercury, the rusty colored Mars, the ringed planet Saturn and some of Saturn's brighter moons. Telescopes will be provided by the amateur astronomers in attendance. If you have a telescope, please bring it - the more telescopes, the bigger the StarWatch party!
To learn more about the Venus transit and eclipses, visit three websites we recommend:
- Libby and Robert Strong and Richard Pollack work with the SMART Center, a hands-on science outreach and education organization in the northern Ohio Valley, the headquarters of which is located at the SMART-Centre Market, 30 22nd St., Wheeling. Visit them at www.smartcenter.org.