Transit of Venus 2012: Where can I get solar eclipse glasses?
Where can you buy special solar eclipse glasses to safely watch the Transit of Venus, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical sight that will occur in Southern California on Tuesday afternoon? First, try planetariums or science museums, or head to a home improvement store for No. 14 welder's glass. The best bet? Find a bulk supplier.
In the L.A. area, a major bulk supplier of solar glasses is Rainbow Symphony in the San Fernando Valley, which is selling them for just 85 cents a pair. Rainbow Symphony is located at 6860 Canby Ave., Suite 120, in Reseda. It will be open between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Griffith Observatory, Columbia Memorial Space Center and UCLA Planetarium are among sites that will make available telescopes with special solar filters for free viewing of the Transit of Venus. A magnified view of the scene is probably the best option for watching the sight.
Viewing the Transit of Venus, which will begin shortly after 3 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time and last for several hours, is an event that hasn't been seen in the western United States since 1882 and won't be seen anywhere on Earth for 105 more years.
At its heart, the exquisite show in the heavens is simple: Venus will cross paths between the sun and the Earth, and earthlings will see a tiny dot floating across the surface of the sun over several hours.
This week's viewing will be only the eighth time the Transit of Venus has happened since the telescope was invented, according to NASA's Fred Espenak. It will begin at 3:06 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time and hit the center of its journey at 6:25 p.m. The sun sets in Los Angeles at 8:02 p.m., but in points west — such as Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, eastern Asia and most of Europe — the show will go on for about two more hours. (The transit will occur Wednesday for points west of the International Date Line.)
As long as clouds don't interfere with the view, most of the world will be able to see at least part of the Transit of Venus, except for southeastern South America, western Africa, Portugal and Spain.
Entire lifetimes can go by with no Transit of Venus, but we're living in a lucky time to see what Espenak calls one of the rarest of planetary alignments. The viewings occur rarely. Since the telescope's invention, Espenak says, it was only viewable in 1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874 and 1882; the last viewable transit happened in 2004 but happened before sunrise in the western United States.
Some viewers have said the Transit of Venus looks as if there were a black hole punched in the sun, according to a NASA video.
The Transit of Venus has tantalized astronomers for centuries, and past astronomers hoped that they could use the phenomenon to answer an enduring mystery: the distance between the Earth and Venus.
According to NASA, in the 18th century, astronomer Edmund Halley — for whom Halley’s Comet was named — theorized that if the Transit of Venus was observed from various locations on Earth, scientists could use that data to calculate the Earth’s distance to Venus.
European nations sent scientists on ships across the globe to observe the transit in 1769 in hopes of getting the data they needed. The British explorer James Cook was even dispatched to Tahiti to view Venus' journey. But according to a NASA video, “bad weather, primitive optics and the natural fuzziness of Venus’ atmosphere prevented observers from gathering the data they needed.” According to this NASA article, it would take another century — when observers used photographs — for scientists to get the data to measure the size of the solar system.
-- Rong-Gong Lin II
Photo: Children wear solar eclipse glasses to observe the annular solar eclipse at Sekiguchidaimachi Primary School in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, at 7:37 a.m. Monday, May 21, 2012. (Yomiuri Shimbun/MCT)
Graphic of the Transit of Venus. Credit: Griffith Observatory
Photo: The Transit of Venus. Credit: NASA