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Countdown to the Transit of Venus on June 5

Research posts

Venus transit_1

This multiple exposure image of the Sun was taken during the June 2004 transit. During the event next month, Venus will appear as a small dot traveling across the face of the Sun over several hours. © NASA/F. Espenak


Astrophysicist Jackie Faherty is blogging about the upcoming transit of Venus, which will take place next week. In her first post, she explains what the transit is, when it occurs, where she will be observing it—and where New Yorkers can catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

A rare astronomical event is upon us: our sister planet Venus is about to transit our Sun. Depending on your geographic location, this means that the distant planet will glide across the face of the Sun appearing as a small black dot for several hours. Just like the Moon will sometimes pass between the Earth and the Sun, causing a solar eclipse, so do the innermost planets Venus and Mercury. However, since Venus and Mercury are many times more distant to us than the Moon, and since their orbits are not perfectly aligned with that of the Earth, transits of the inner planets are far more rare than solar eclipses and the shadows they cast are smaller. But the event is no less dramatic and unfolds over several hours rather than mere minutes.

Venus transits occur in pairs, eight years apart, followed by a break of more than 100 years. The first Venus transit in the current pair took place in June 2004 and was visible at sunrise from New York City. After this June, the next Venus transit will occur in December 2117, over 105 years from now.

The visibility path of the current transit on Tuesday, June 5, covers, for portions of the event, the majority of North America. New York City will get a sunset view with first contact beginning at 6:03:50 pm (for local transit times outside of New York City, click here).

To celebrate the event, I will be viewing the transit from the remote Easter Island. I am working on a project that will link school groups from across the globe, including students in the Museum’s Science and Research Mentoring program (SRMP), to reproduce a very famous astronomical measurement proposed by Edmund Halley in 1716: using the transit of Venus to calculate Earth’s distance from the Sun. 

I’ll write more about our project in my next post. In the meantime, if you’re making plans to watch the transit in New York, the Museum will be hosting a live simulcast from the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, where astronomers will be viewing the transit in its entirety.

Click here for details of the Museum program, and here to learn more about an upcoming installation in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life that uses the transit of Venus as a rallying point for saving coral reef systems.

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At sunrise on June 8, 2004, people gathered on the Arthur Ross Terrace at the Museum to watch the last transit of Venus. Eclipse-viewing glasses are recommended to protect eyes from dangerous solar rays. © AMNH/D. Finnin


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