Sometime nearing 7 p.m. Tuesday, residents of our area will have a small opportunity to see the planet Venus pass in front of the Sun, a rare celestial event unlikely to take place again in your liftetime.
The event is called the "Transit of Venus,'' and occurs when Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun in such a way that the planet's silhouette is backlit by the Sun's light.
It last happened in 2004. It won't happen again until 2117, so depending on the strength of your daily vitamins, you likely won't get another chance to see it.
Here, we'll have an opportunity to see it beginning around 7 p.m. until the sun sets. Viewing in the continental U.S. is best on the west coast, where the event begins around 3 p.m.
Those in Alaska, Japan, and large sections of Australia, China, and Russia will be able to see it in its entirety. By the time the Sun rises on the East Coast Wednesday, Venus will have completed the transit.
Often referred to as the "Evening Star" or "Morning Star," Venus is the brightest natural object in our sky after the Sun and the Moon.
How to watch
Never look directly at the sun with your naked eyes. You can damage your eyes. Likewise, viewing the sun with either binoculars or a telescope can direct the sun's magnified rays directly into your eyeball and cause serious injury―think about what happens to ants under a magnifying glass.
Sunglasses do not provide sufficient protection. If you know someone who works in plumbing or construction, ask them if they have any #14 welder's glass. You can look directly at the sun through this material without risking injury.
If you have a tripod or a partner and a pair of steady hands, you can use binoculars to project an image of the Sun onto a white piece of paper. Remember, don't look through your binoculars at the sun!
Though it's not quite the same as viewing the phenomenon in person, there are several places to watch the transit of Venus online:
- The Slooh Space Camera will offer an 8-hour webcast of the transit that includes real-time video feeds from 10 telescopes around the world.
- Astronomers Without Borders will carry a video stream of the transit from the Mount Wilson Observatory in California.
- NASA will offer a live video feed from Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii with expert commentary.
- The San Francisco Exploratorium will host an online video stream from the Mauna Loa telescope in Hawaii.
Lastly, there's Don Pettit, an astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station. Pettit's not doing a video feed, but he will become the first person to ever photograph a transit of Venus from outer space.