Mark your calendars. On June 5-6, 2012, Venus will pass across the face of the Sun. This is likely the last time you will see Venus transit in your lifetime. Transits of the planet are very rare, coming in pairs separated by more than 100 years. The first of this pair came in 2004, and after this year's transit there will not be another one until 2117. I've listed below some information you should know about where, when, and how to view the transit.
I'll admit that I went a little crazy with the links, there are a lot of them. The idea was to make a sort of one-stop-shop where you could find all of the transit information you could want or links to where you can find it. Because I've included so many links, I tried to break them up by topic, and hopefully that will help you navigate. First, let's start with some general information type links about the up-coming transit of Venus:
- Transit of Venus is a blog style website with all kinds of information on various topics about the transit
- 2012 Transit of Venus Sun-Earth Day Shadows of the Sun is NASA's page and includes maps, galleries, and information
- Royal Museums Greenwich's 2012 Transit of Venus site
- British Astronomical Association's Transit of Venus 2012 site
- Sydney Observatory's Transit of Venus site
- NASA News article that includes information and a great video
- Society for Popular Astronomy's Introducing Solar Observing
- A Science Daily article "The Transit of Venus: June 5-6, 2012"
- Royal Astronomical Society's Transits of Venus page including a map of planned public observations and events in the UK
- A Factsheet put together by The Astronomical Society of Australia
- A video of the talk by Tony Sizer, lecturer at the Royal Observatory, on the subject of transits of Venus
- Sky and Telescope's "Transit of Venus Explained"
- History of the Transits of Venus
- The Transit of Venus Facebook Group
Location, Location, Location
People from all over the world will be looking up on June 5th and 6th, but where you live determines what time you should be looking for the transit. If you are in Europe, the Middle East, eastern Africa, western Australia, India, and western Asia you should be looking for Venus at sunrise on June 6th. If you are in North America, Central America, and the northwestern parts of South America you should look for Venus around sunset on June 5th. If you live in central and eastern Australia then lucky you! You will be able to see the entire transit. For specific times of the transit at your location, see the Local Transit Times website.
Links about the where's and the whens:
- Local Transit Times website to find out about viewing times in your specific location
- Transit Computer: Locations Worldwide from the US Naval Observatory
- NASA's guide to the 2012 Transit of Venus
- A PDF version of the map showing the visibility of the transit (same map as above)
- A large jpg color map showing the visibility of the transit
- A diagram that shows the path of Venus across the Sun and the contact times from an earth-centered prospective
- HM Nautical Almanac Office guide (includes UK predictions)
- Event locations worldwide. Find an event near you and join in the fun!
How to Observe
First, and most importantly, NEVER look directly at the Sun without proper safety devices unless you prefer permanent blindness. Regular sunglasses do NOT qualify as a proper safety device. Venus covers too little of the solar disk to block the blinding glare of the Sun. Solar filters are widely available for safe solar viewing.
- A video featuring Ralph Chou about viewing the transit safely and effectively
- NASA's page on Eye Safety During Solar Eclipses (information that applies to transits as well)
- Some really great and very detailed information about viewing the transit and eye safety
- A PDF overview on viewing methods (compiled for the classroom)
Protective Eyewear: If you have access to a welding hood that houses a #14 or darker filter then you can use that. Or you purchase inexpensive Eclipse Shades.
- Rainbow Symphony is an Australian company that sells several types of Eclipse Shades and hand-held solar viewers
- Amazon sells inexpensive packs of eclipse glasses, hand-held eclipse viewers, and even pricier solar eclipse glasses
- Astronomers Without Borders is selling eclipse glasses for only $2 a pair, and that includes shipping
Telescopes with Solar Filters: Not only do telescopes magnify Venus, but if they are properly filtered they can also give you a better view then you will have with most other viewing options. If you own an inexpensive, small, and/or older model telescope be careful to make sure you are using the correct type of solar filter. If you don't have these then look below in the links for Projection Methods to find out how to turn your telescope into a projector. Don't own a telescope? No problem, me neither. You can do what I'm doing and find your local astronomy club. They will have telescopes set up (probably nice, big ones) and amateur and expert astronomers on hand to answer questions.
- Mr. Sunspot's guide to viewing the Sun with a telescope. He explains how to build solar filters, make a simple telescope, correct ways to look at the sun through a telescope
- AAS Press Officer Richard Tresch Fienberg provides simple instructions and a supplies list for building a Sun Funnel (a closed-loop device that fits in your telescope and projects a magnified image on a screen)
- A Sun Gun device, devised by Bruce Hergerberg, that allows a crowd of spectators to view a large projection of the Sun
- Find solar filters for your telescope at Astro-Physics Inc., Meade Instruments Corp., Orion Telescopes & Binoculars, and Kendrick Astro Instruments
- Front and rear mounted Hydrogen-Alpha (Ha) solar filters
Pinhole Projectors/Camera: These devices are a safe, indirect way to view the Sun. They are popular devices, especially with kids, because they are easy to make and use yourself. Unfortunately they suffer from the problems associated with indirect viewing, namely unmagnified images and lack of detail.
- How to use a mirror as a reflected pinhole device
- The Exploratorium Museum's instructions on how to build a pinhole projector
- The Solarscope is pinhole camera that is available from Light Tech Optical Instruments
- Bob Miller's Light Walk which includes activities and directions on pinhole viewers
Projection Methods: There are a few types of projection methods, besides pinhole projectors, that you can use to indirectly view the transit. You can project the image of the Sun onto a white surface with a projecting telescope or binoculars (do NOT use the binoculars or telescope to directly look at the Sun!). Another option, especially for children, is to use a Sunspotter telescope viewer.
- Dr. Doug Duncan, from the University of Colorado, explains how to use projection and even has video
- Projecting the Sun, using binocualrs, adapted from the Society for Popular Astronomy
- The Exploratorium demonstrates how to project using binoculars (the page was set up to see Mercury's transit, but the same techniques apply)
- Hubert van Hecke (Mr. Science) provides design instructions for making a sunspotter as well as how to take sunspot data and analyze it (or in this case, transit data)
- Science First makes The Sunspotter that provides a surface on which you can trace the Sun's outline onto a piece of paper
- Another type of Sunspotter is available from StarLab
- How to use and make a projector for your telescope
Use the Internet: You don't have to go outside to see the transit of Venus. You can go online and look for webcasts from around the world.
- User-adjustable Applets about the transit of Venus
- Videos that relate specifically to the transit of Venus and similar phenomena
- Astronomers Without Borders has a web app where you can find information and share your experiences
- NASA will have a live webcast from Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawaii that will bring you real-time images of the transit even for the duration
- Live broadcasts is viewable from several locations on Sky-Live
- A live webcast from Mount Wilson Observatory (where Edwin Hubble did his work on the expanding Universe and the nature of galaxies)
- Use a remote solar telescope like Mike Rushford's robotic solar observatory in Livermore, California. You can actually control your realtime view of the Sun from your web browser!
Experiments, Experiments, Experiments
Space agencies and astronomers around the world will be taking this time to study Venus and test some planetary hypotheses. Planetary transits are powerful methods for discovering exoplanets. It is not only one of the ways that astronomers find exoplanets, but it is also a way to learn more about the characteristics of those far away bodies. By measuring the refraction and scattering of light, lots of information can be gathered about the atmospheres of planets. To refine these techniques and to learn more about our own solar system, astronomers can observe planets close to home. Venus is not only one of the most intriguing bodies in our solar system, it also has a thick atmosphere and passes between Earth and the Sun. This combination of factors allows for the observation and measurement of its atmosphere. Techniques that are directly applicable to exoplanet study.
You can even contribute through citizen science. There is an IOS version and an Android version phone apps that will allow you to send your observations to a global experiment to measure the size of the solar system. Prior to the transit, you can use the app to practice your timing and see predicted times for your location. During the transit, you can use the app to assist you in measuring the time of the interior contacts. After the transit, you can use the app to access your data on a map. I recommend thouroughly reading the instructions so that you both recieve and send good information.
Links to some big experiments during the transit of Venus:
- The Hubble Space Telescope will be observing the transit by watching and measuring the reflection of the Sun on the Moon
- The Venus Twilight Experiment will be measuring the refraction and scattering phenomena during the transit
- Some overall information on the phone apps and how the information will be used and an experimental archeology project
And finally, just a few fun links:
- Transit of Venus Music Project where you can download the free Morning Star soundtrack to the transit of Venus trailer
- Music and literature, with an emphasis on John Philip Sousa, from the Library of Congress
- Original music from the 2004 Sun-Earth Day
- Penn High School Orchestra preforms John Philip Sousa's Transit of Venus March in 2004
- Collection of 18th and 19th century music related to the transit of Venus
- A free download of the 2008 album from Transit Venus
- Song by New Zealand folk singer Willow Mackey composed for the bicentennial of James Cook's voyage
- Matt Rumley's song Ballad of James Cook
- Art Gorman and Jeff Tuholski's song Young James Cook