Excitement builds for astronomical rarity

Posted June 01, 2012, at 5:17 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Excitement is already building for the transit of Venus, an astronomical event that won’t occur again for 105 years.

On Tuesday, Venus will cross in front of the sun from the Earth’s perspective, producing a small, visible dot that will glide from left to right across the top of the solar disk.

It’s a very rare event: The transit of Venus has only happened seven times since the telescope was invented, according to NASA’s Fred Espenak.

The last time was in 2004, but the Western Hemisphere was unable to view it. According to an online video from Slooh Space Camera, astronomers used the transit of Venus to calculate the size of the solar system.

Knowing it was so rare, countries sent out ships around the world “to time, to the second, how long it took the disk of Venus to move from one edge of the sun to the other,” the video said. It was from these data that scientists were able to calculate the distance of the Earth to the sun, according to the video.

Those with the best seats for Venus’ transit will be in eastern Australia, New Zealand and eastern Asia, weather permitting. For those west of the International Date Line, the eclipse occurs on Wednesday.

The continental United States and southern Canada will get a partial show on Tuesday evening, but the sun will set before Venus finishes her journey. The same show will also be visible in Mexico, Central America and the northern edge of South America, according to astronomer Jay Anderson.

Meanwhile, most of Europe, eastern Africa, and the rest of Asia will see the tail end of Venus’ transit after the sun rises on Wednesday.

In terms of climate and location, eastern Australia or Hawaii are prime spots to watch this transit. In the continental U.S., the Southwest is your best option.

California has better-than-even chances of clear weather on a typical June afternoon, and Arizona has a more than 90 percent chance of clear skies, Anderson wrote. Thunderstorms can be a problem elsewhere in the U.S.

Just like with an eclipse, don’t look directly at the sun. Doing so can literally cook the eye’s cells and cause “eclipse blindness.”

©2012 the Los Angeles Times

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