Transit of Venus: Viewing parties planned as excitement grows
The Transit of Venus is generating excitement both among scientists and a curious public, with various viewing parties and events planned for Tuesday afternoon.
When the cosmic show begins after about 3 p.m. PDT, you can see the tiny black dot of Venus scoot across the sun as it sets.
Venues around the world will provide viewing opportunities for the public, including one for seniors at Leisure World in Seal Beach. Astronaut Don Pettit packed a special solar filter when he departed for the International Space Station in December so that he could safely photograph the transit from space. Members of the Antique Telescope Society have already set up their centuries-old viewing devices in a parking lot atop Mt. Wilson, where Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding.
Modern telescopes in Hawaii, New Mexico and in Earth orbit will use specially tailored equipment to study the sunlight that passes through Venus' atmosphere as a sort of test run for methods they're developing to understand the contents and dynamics of the atmospheres of distant exoplanets.
Nina Misch, who manages the Cosmic Cafe, a glorified snack bar for weekend visitors to Mt. Wilson, said she would keep extended hours Tuesday for whatever business might come from the transit.
The Times asked Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, for some tips on watching this astronomical show Tuesday. Below is a Q&A, based mostly on Krupp’s answers.
Q: What’s the best way to view the Transit of Venus?
A: To watch the sun safely means viewing the show through a solar filter. The best view is through a magnified image of the sun – and that means through a filtered telescope. In Southern California, the Griffith Observatory, Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey and UCLA Planetarium will offer free access to outfitted telescopes.
Venus will cross its midpoint on the sun’s disc around 6:25 p.m. PDT. In the continental United States, the show will end at sunset, but Venus will continue to be visible on the sun’s disc until roughly 10 p.m. PDT westward. That means places like Alaska, Hawaii, Asia, Australia, eastern Africa and all but the western edge of Europe will get to see the planet exit the sun’s disc.
You can also buy special solar eclipse glasses that can be used to look directly at the sun safely, blocking at least all but 0.003% of visible sunlight. They’re still available at the Griffith Observatory gift shop for $2.99 a pair. A bargain deal, with pairs selling for just 85 cents, can be found at a wholesaler that manufactures them, Rainbow Symphony at 6860 Canby Ave., Suite 120, in Reseda. It will be open between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
You can also try to find so-called No. 14 welder's glasses that might be on sale at welder's shops or at home improvement stores. Or use a pair of binoculars to project the sun's light onto the sidewalk or a piece of paper, and see if you can spot a small dot that is Venus.
Q: How can I photograph the Transit of Venus?
If you have a solar eclipse glasses, you can cover the lens of a simple point-and-shoot camera and point it at the sun to take a photo. Folks were able to take snapshots of the recent solar eclipse that way. But take care that you don’t accidentally look at the sun with your bare eyes or fry your camera’s lenses without covering them up with protection.
Those with larger SLR cameras, however, will probably find that the solar eclipse glasses aren’t large enough to cover their lenses. At this late hour, it will probably be hard to purchase special solar filters that can cap SLR camera lenses.
If you do photograph the Transit of Venus, send it to the Times via Twitter by posting the hashtag #LAVenus and tweeting it to @LANow.
Q: What is the significance of the Transit of Venus?
Transits of Venus have not been known to humans for very long. The theory behind the transit goes back to the 17th century, when German astronomer Johannes Kepler predicted that both Mercury and Venus would cross over the Sun’s disc from Earth’s viewpoint. But Kepler’s prediction of a transit in 1631 was disappointing in that it wasn’t visible in Europe during that year.
So the credit to the person who first predicted –- and observed –- the Transit of Venus goes to an English astronomer, Jeremiah Horrocks, which he did in 1639.
It wasn’t long before scientists realized there would be more transits in the future, and there were: in 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882, 2004 and 2012.
-- Rong-Gong Lin II, Eryn Brown and Amina Khan