The Scoop on the Transit of Venus
There’s been a lot of buzz about today’s Transit of Venus, but what’s it really all about? Francine Jackson, director of the Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, breaks down this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon for us:
What: The Transit involves the planet Venus appearing to cross the face of the Sun. The cycle of Venus transits is one of the most unusual in nature: Two occur within the span of eight years; then there is a wait of 105.5 years.
Two again occur within eight years, and there is then a wait of 121.5 years. Once again, two happen within eight years, and the cycle continues. Every 243 years, four transits of Venus are visible.
This defies logic, as it would seem they should happen every time the planet Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun…but the alignment is so special that it doesn’t happen.
When: Today, June 5 (the first of this century occurred on June 8, 2004). The transit will be visible from 6 p.m. up until sunset.
Cloudy skies will have an effect on viewing; in the event of cloud coverage, check out NASA’s live coverage of the transit from Hawaii, starting at 5:45 p.m. Click here for the streaming video.
Why: In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, astronomers discovered that the Transit could create the geometry that would allow scientists to determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
Today, the Transit of Venus is merely a curiosity to the general public, to be observed only because it will never again be seen by anyone living today.
Where: Frosty Drew Observatory, 61 Park Ln., Charlestown, will be holding a viewing event from 4–9 p.m. The event is free but donations are appreciated. Check the website for cancellations due to cloud cover. frostydrew.org
The Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, Elmwood Avenue, Providence, will hold a live telecast screening starting at 6 p.m. Adults $3, children three and younger free. providenceri.com/museum
The Ladd Observatory/Skyscrapers Amateur Astronomical Society will host a viewing from 5–8 p.m. on the roof of Brown University’s Olney-Margolies Athletic Center, Hope Street, Providence. A suggested donation of $1 is welcome. In the event that cloud cover obscures the Transit (which looks pretty likely, folks), the public is invited to Brown University’s Barus and Holley Building (Room 168), Hope and George sts., Providence, to view remote coverage of the Transit. brown.edu
If you didn’t catch the first one in 2004 — don’t be embarrassed, we didn’t either — this is your last chance to view the Transit of Venus (or what we like to call the Sun’s travelling beauty mark) in this lifetime. Unless, of course, you plan on sticking around until the year 2117, the next time Venus will visibly swing by the Sun.
If you happen to be in a place that offers a cloud-free view (lucky!), don’t be a sun-staring show-off: Protect your peepers from permenant damage with solar filters.