By Raaj Datta
Here’s something for skywatchers – the extremely rare Transit of Venus is going to take place in the month of June. The historic event almost immediately comes right after the’ ring of fire’ from last Sunday’s annular solar eclipse. It will be an impressive sight with Venus crossing the face of the Sun appearing as a tiny dot moving across.
The celestial event will be visible from everywhere in the world. The Venus transit will take place on June 5-6 – June 5 for observers in the Western hemisphere and June 6 for observers in the Eastern hemisphere. The entire transit will take around 7 hours, but most parts of the world will be able to witness only part of it. The entire 7-hour transit will be visible from Alaska, Greenland, northern Canada, the western Pacific, eastern Australia, New Zealand, and eastern Asia. In the U.S., the Transit of Venus will be best visible around sunset.
The Transit of Venus occurs in pairs eight years apart. The last Transit of Venus occurred in 2004 and the next one won’t occur until 2117. The transit of Venus is a rare event that occurs less than once in a century. There have only been six transits since the invention of the telescope in the 1600s.
Venus holds quite some significance in the history of astronomy, especially in the 1700s. The famous astronomer Edmund Halley realised that observing the Transit of Venus from locations far apart on Earth, the distance to Venus could be triangulated using the principles of parallax. His idea could only be put into practice in the late 1800s after the invention of photography.
The 2004 transit of Venus was an event no living person had ever seen before with their own eyes. There were hand-drawn sketches and grainy photos at best that were available. Modern solar telescopes captured exceptional photos of Venus making the transit in front of the Sun.
The 2012 Transit of Venus should be even extraordinary as there are extreme high-resolution cameras and solar telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope due to its delicate nature won’t be pointing directly at the Sun; it will nonetheless use the moon as a mirror to record the event. However, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will also watch the event and capture Hubble-quality photographs of the rare celestial event.
Safe ways to watch the Transit of Venus
Never look at the Sun directly with your naked eyes. Not even binoculars or telescopes without proper filters are safe. Never use normal goggles to look directly at the Sun. Damages to the eye are severe and hard to reverse. There are a number of safe ways to look at the Sun though.
The most convenient method is to get a pair of solar eclipse glasses. Alternatively, there are special solar filters which are easily available commercially. If you are unable to get any of them, a No. 14 or higher rated welder’s glass works equally fine. The cardboard projection method that uses a telescope or one side of a binocular is also a safe way to look at the Sun.