Opportunity Today to View Transit of Venus

Public can view Venus moving in front of the Sun through three telescopes set up at UC Riverside

Image shows Venus in front of the Sun.

The transit of Venus is a rare astronomical event.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Every so often, the planet Venus does something remarkable.  Its orbit brings it to a point directly between the Sun and the Earth, where it appears as a black dot moving across the bright disc of the Sun.

The public has an opportunity to view Venus moving in front of the Sun today — an event known as a transit — through three solar viewing telescopes (8″, 14″ and H-alpha Coronado) that the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Riverside will set up near the Bell Tower on campus. Parking costs $6.

Looking directly at the Sun with no proper eye protection can result in severe eye damage in seconds.

“This is the last chance in our lifetime to see this extraordinary astronomical event,” said Allen Zych, a professor of physics emeritus, who is organizing the viewing on campus.  “It will start at about 3:06 p.m. and last about six and a half hours.”

Transits of Venus are rare events.  It was first observed in 1639 by Jeremiah Horrocks near Liverpool, England. Subsequent transits of Venus occurred in 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and 2004.  Captain James Cook set sail for Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit and discovered Australia.  The next transit after today will occur in 2117.

Historically, Venus transits have been used to measure the size of the Solar System.

“The distance of Venus from the Earth during the transit can be found from its angular size,” Zych explained.  “This, in turn, determines the size of the Solar System.”

Members of the public line up at UC Riverside to take a peek at the transit of Venus, June 5, 2012. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

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