Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Transit of Venus

(Venus is the dark round dot in the upper right quadrant on the Sun)

The planet Venus passed between Earth and the Sun yesterday giving us a once in a lifetime view of its path.  This is called the Transit of Venus.  If you missed it--well, too bad. You've lost your chance to see one. 

Transit.  The passage of a smaller celestial body or its shadow across the disk of a larger celestial body. As observed from Earth, Mercury and Venus are the only planets of the solar system that make transits of the Sun, because they are the only planets with orbits that lie between Earth and the Sun. Mercury makes an average of 13 transits of the Sun each century. Transits of Venus across the Sun are much rarer, with only 7 of them having occurred between 1639 and 2004. 

A crowd of about 500 showed up at the University Observatory to take a turn looking through one of the twenty or so high-powered telescopes set up to help view this event.  This picture was taken from the view. 

The average wait to get to the telescope was abut 20 minutes and most were satisfied with their turn.  Unfortunately, 15 -20 minutes before sunset clouds came in and obscured the view.  The people who had waited the longest did not get to see anything beyond clouds though the telescopes. 

The next time the planets align so that Venus will again pass between Earth and the Sun with such a flourish will be in 2117.  Barring any new medical discoveries-- we will all be dead and gone by then.

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