June Skies – The Transit of Venus

The highlight of June, astronomically speaking, will be the transit of Venus on June the 5th. Every 105 years the orbits of Venus and the Earth align so that Venus appears to pass across the face of the Sun. This alignment is similar to what happens during lunar and solar eclipses – planetary orbits are not exactly circular and slighted tilted relative to each other. In the case of Venus, the transits occur in two events spaced 7 years apart. This is the second act of a transit cycle that began May 2004 which your resident astronomer was fortunate to view from the coast of Spain.

The first transit witnessed by humans was in 1639. Subsequent transits reinforced the scientific methods predicting planetary orbits and helped to measure the size of the Sun, Venus and the whole solar system. If you miss this one, the next one will be in 2117.

There are tons of good web resources to help you view the transit including this one. As with eclipses, you need to be in the right place to see the whole thing. In this transit, Asia and the Pacific islands will see the entire six hour event. At Balsam (and the southeast U.S.) we will only see the first couple of hours as the sun is setting. Beginning at about 6:04 PM EDT you will see the small black dot of Venus start to enter the solar disk. By sunset at about 8:45 EDT Venus will be about 1/3 of the way into the Sun’s disk.

Above all else remember – DO NOT STARE AT THE SUN! You can permanently damage your vision. Use eclipse glasses or welders goggles. And NEVER look at the sun through binoculars or a telescope without a proper solar filter. For ad-hoc viewing a pinhole camera is quick and easy to make and will project an image of the sun that groups can watch. See this link for detailed instructions or google it.

For folks who will be at Balsam on the evening of the 5th I will be setting a solar viewer along with various small telescopes with proper filters around 5:30 PM. I also have eclipse glasses for folks to share if you want to try to see the transit with your naked eye (which you definitely can). Since the view from Dogstar is blocked to the western horizon by trees, I plan to set up at the end of Hallback Way which looks over the 14th hole. Be sure to check back here for last minute changes. Also this time of year the chance of clouds interfering with the view is at least 50% so be prepared for a last minute cancellation in case of rain or overcast skies.

Jim Stratigos

Resident Astronomer

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