Did You See Venus Crossing The Sun Last Night?
NEW YORK – It's something no one alive today will likely ever see again: The planet Venus crossing the sun — a small, black dot moving across the fiery face of our nearest star.
The transit of Venus
across the sun is one of the rarest celestial sights visible from
Earth, one that wowed scientists and amateur observers around the world
Tuesday (June 5). The event, arguably the most anticipated skywatching
display of the year, marked the last time Venus will cross the sun (as
seen from Earth) for 105 years.
Only seven Venus
transits have been witnessed since the invention of the telescope 400
years ago, and you'd have a long wait for the next one. It won't happen
again until Dec. 11, 2117.
To celebrate the last transit of Venus in the 21st century, astronomers
and skywatchers came together in many sites around the world. In the
United States, NASA
beamed images of the transit from an observatory atop Mauna Kea in
Hawaii (just one of many webcasts from many countries) and welcomed the
public to its various space centers, including the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. [Amazing Venus Transit 2012 Pictures]
"It's truly inspiring to see so many faces here to share this moment with us," Natalie Batalha,
the deputy science team leader of NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space
telescope, told visitors at Ames. "It's going to give you, I hope, a
profound feeling of the grandeur of our own solar system. You're going to see Venus in person, with a spotlight shining on her."
Tuesday's transit began just after 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT) and lasted
about six hours and 40 minutes. It was visible across North America,
Europe, Asia and eastern Africa. Because of the International Date Line,
some parts of the world saw the transit on June 6.
A rare celestial sight
occur when Venus reaches a point in its orbit that brings the planet
directly between the Earth and the sun. Since the tilt of Venus' orbit
isn't exactly the same as that of Earth, the events are rare, occurring
just four times every 243 years.
The transits occur in pairs eight years apart. Since the June 5 transit
followed a previous Venus sun crossing in 2004, this is the last one of
the current cycle. Venus and Mercury are the only planets that can be
seen crossing the sun from Earth since their orbits are between our
planet and the sun. The next Mercury transit will be on May 9, 2016.
Despite the extreme rarity of Venus transits, they hold a wealth of information about Venus, the sun and our solar system. Since the first documented observation of a Venus transit
in 1639, astronomers have used the events to measure the size of the
solar system, the intricacies of Venus' atmosphere, the width of the sun
and more. [Venus Crosses Sun's Hellfire in 2012 Transit (Video)]
In fact, NASA and other space agencies trained a fleet of satellites to watch the Venus transit
in unprecedented detail. NASA's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory
captured spectacular photos and movies of the entire transit.
Astronomers and skywatchers were eagerly looking forward to seeing the so-called "Black Drop Effect,"
an optical illusion that occurs when just after Venus moves on to the
sun's disk and just before it exits. During the illusion, the black disk
of Venus appears to be connected to the edge of the sun due to a trick
of optics, NASA officials said.
Even astronauts in space caught Venus transit fever.
NASA astronaut Don Pettit photographed the Venus transit from the
observation deck of the International Space Station. He is the first
person ever to photograph the transit from space and has been a prolific photographer of Earth and space during his months-long mission aboard the space station.
"For scientific purposes today, the transit of Venus
is more of an educational opportunity to look at celestial events and
learn and be delighted about how our solar systems, and the dynamics of
the planets, operate," Pettit said in a video before the transit.
Venus-watching in the Big Apple
Here in New York City, hundreds of skywatchers flocked to Manhattan's
west side where the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York set up
two separate observing posts to catch the historic Venus transit. Clouds
and occasional rain put a damper on the viewing, but for brief moments
the skies parted allowing for amazing views.
Megan McDavid, of Brooklyn, said she came out to see the transit
because: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is my last chance,
how could you miss it?"
She admitted that the small dot of Venus was "hard to see" without
telescope magnification, but said, "I feel lucky we got a few breaks in
the clouds and I got a chance to see it."
Elsewhere in Manhattan, nearly 600 people packed the American Museum of
Natural History to watch Venus cross the sun. The museum carried NASA's
webcast from Mauna Kea live, with the crowd cheering as the event
"We watched a dot move across the screen and it was awesome," said skywatching enthusiast Kip Daly, 16, when asked what he'd tell his future children about the transit.
How many of you were fortunate enough to see this event?
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