Crowd gathers to witness transit of venus

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Retired St. Cloud State Planetarium director Dave Williams explains the transit of Venus. Photograph by Adam Hammer 05.

Hundreds of community members, children, faculty, staff and students made their way to St. Cloud State’s Planetarium June 5 to watch Venus move across the face of the sun. This transit of Venus occurs about every 100 years and will not be visible again until 2117.

Telescopes on the roof of the Robert H. Wick Science Building broadcast live images of the celestial oddity in the planetarium and over the Internet. Also shown was a live feed from NASA at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. The telescopes used a filter that let about 1/100th of 1 percent of the sun’s light through to allow viewers to see a black dot — Venus — move across the face of the sun during its six-hour journey without hurting their eyes.

SCSU astronomers gave demonstrations and answered numerous questions from the audience ranging from inquiries about sunspots to the telescopes. Many also wanted to know, “What other planets transit the sun?” The answer: All planets, but from earth we can only see Mercury and Venus since they are the only two planets between Earth and the sun, explained Dave Williams, retired SCSU Planetarium director. Mercury transits are much more frequent with the last visible in 2006 and the next appearing in 2012.

The last transit of Venus was in 2008. Venus transits happen about every 100 years in pairs that are eight years apart, Williams said. Williams also explained that one Venus day equals 243 Earth days.

For most witnessing the transit at the planetarium, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Listen to the podcast by 88.1 FM KVSC’s arts & cultural heritage producer Jeff Carmack for an interview with SCSU astronomy professor Gary Bohannan about the Venus transit, the collaborative effort between departments that made the viewing party possible and humanity’s place amongst the stars: kvsc.org/podcast_item.php?id=248

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