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Transit of Venus: Solar eclipse glasses needed for safe viewing

June 4, 2012 | 11:18 am

A tiny dot of the planet Venus is seen on the northwest side of the Sun's disc as viewed in Manila, Philippines, on June 8, 2004.

As the rare Transit of Venus comes to the United States on Tuesday afternoon in the United States, experts are warning that special eyewear -- such as solar eclipse glasses -- are needed to view the event safely.

You can buy a pair of solar glasses from a planetarium, such as the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, which will sell them Tuesday after 12 p.m. for $2.99 a pair. An even better view, also at the observatory, can be had by seeing the transit magnified by a telescope equipped with special solar filters.

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 try using a pair of binoculars, preferably with a magnification power above 7, to project the sun's light onto the sidewalk or a piece of paper. If you're able to find an image of the sun, look for a tiny dot showing the image of Venus. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Solar eclipse

Pinhole projectors that worked during last month's eclipse probably won't work this time, experts said, because the projectors don't have enough resolution to show the planet's shadow.

Don't look at the sun directly during the transit. The sun's rays are so bright it will obscure Venus, and you could damage your vision. If all else fails, watch a live NASA webcast from Hawaii.

Transit of VenusVenus 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 two more hours. (The transit will occur on 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 one being able to see a 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 only twice every 120 years. 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 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 — whose name graces Halley’s Comet — 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 a 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.

Able to photograph the transit? Tweet it to us at @LANow and tag it with #LAVenus. You can upload photos to our website.


Transit of Venus: Watch Venus cross the sun

Transit of Venus: Solar glasses are a hot commodity

Transit of Venus: Excitement builds for astronomical rarity

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photos: (top) A tiny dot of the planet Venus is seen on the northwest side of the sun's disc as viewed in Manila, Philippines, on June 8, 2004. Credit: Bullit Marquez / Associated Press

(bottom) Transit of Venus. Credit: NASA