SPACE: Once-in-a-lifetime space show Tuesday

Posted at 9:47 AM, May 21, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-05 16:50:15-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - If the clouds break in your area this evening, June 5, 2012, you may be able (with eye protection) to see a once-in-a-lifetime space event! 


From our perspective here on Earth, we will see the planet Venus cross in between us and the Sun, transiting the Sun's 865,000 mile wide face.

Although you can't look directly at the Sun with your naked eyes and see this, there are other ways to safely view this show. 

Dr. Tony Phillips of The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) offers these tips, "Do not stare at the sun. Venus covers too little of the solar disk to block the blinding glare.  Instead, use some type of projection technique or a solar filter. A #14 welder's glass is a good choice."

CBS 6 viewer Rex, a welder for 30 years, says that a #14 may be hard to find, but that a #10 or 11 glass should be just as safe, and can be found at welding supply stores like Home Depot.

In addition, Richmond's Science Museum of Virginia (SMV) will also host a Venus viewing Tuesday, June 5 from 6 p.m. until sunset. The SMV says, "Venus will begin to pass directly in front of the sun at 6:03 pm and the transit lasts until sunset, at 8:28 pm. Members of the Richmond Astronomical Society will set up telescopes with solar filters to enable you to look safely at the sun." The solar shades normally available in the Museum’s Shop 4 Science for $1 are SOLD OUT.  The event is free and will only occur if the weather allows us a clear view of the Sun.
CLICK HERE for the latest CBS 6 Storm Team 7-day forecast.

If you can't look safely yourself, or attend the Science Museum of Virginia event, then you can still watch any number of live webcasts of the event! CLICK HERE for NASA's network of cameras.

Dr. Phillips (NASA) says, "Transits of Venus are very rare, coming in pairs separated by more than a hundred years. This June's transit, the bookend of a 2004-2012 pair, won't be repeated until the year 2117. Fortunately, the event is widely visible. Observers on seven continents, even a sliver of Antarctica, will be in position to see it."

Fred Espenak with NASA explains further, "The transit or passage of a planet across the face of the Sun is a relatively rare occurrence. As seen from Earth, only transits of Mercury and Venus are possible." The next time Earth viewers will see this Venus transit is December 10/11, 2117 (depending on which time zone you're in). Espenak says that "since the invention of the telescope in 1610, there have only been seven transits" documented:

Table: Fred Espenak

BONUS: CLICK HERE to learn more about the history of Venus transits across the Sun.

Wondering what this year's path will look like across the Sun?

ScienceCast video from Science@NASA about the transit of Venus:

In an effort to make this event more accessible to the public, Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC) has partnered with NASA and the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET) to provide a multi-continent webcast of the 2012 Transit of Venus.
CLICK HERE to watch that webcast on June 5, 2012, especially if the weather does not cooperate with us in central Virginia!

Dr. Tony Phillips with NASA explains why this 2012 viewing will be even better than the 2004 event.  "This year’s transit is the second of an 8-year pair. Anticipation was high in June 2004 as Venus approached the sun.  No one alive at the time had seen a Transit of Venus with their own eyes, and the hand-drawn sketches and grainy photos of previous centuries scarcely prepared them for what was about to happen.  Modern solar telescopes captured unprecedented view of Venus’s atmosphere backlit by solar fire.  They saw Venus transiting the sun’s ghostly corona, and gliding past magnetic filaments big enough to swallow the planet whole.  One photographer even caught a spaceship, the International Space Station, transiting the sun alongside Venus."

A double transit: the ISS+Venus on June 8, 2004. Photo credit: Tomas Maruska of Stupava, Slovakia

NASA's Dr. Phillips expects 2012 to "be even better as cameras and solar telescopes have improved. Moreover, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is going to be watching too. SDO will produce Hubble-quality images of this rare event."

Jun. 08, 2004. NOAA's Soft X-ray Imager, onboard the GOES 12 satellite.

BONUS: CLICK HERE for a gallery of images from the 2004 Transit of Venus.

Meteorologist Carrie Rose
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