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June 2, 2012

Wheaton College Observatory Open for Transit of Venus

A.J. Poelarends

The Wheaton College Astronomical Observatory will be open to the community on June 5 for a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The Transit of Venus is an astronomical event in which the planet Venus passes between earth and the front of the sun, briefly appearing to touch it. The Venus Transit will be visible Tuesday evening in North America and Wednesday in Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe. The rare alignment of the two bodies allowed early astronomers to measure the size of the solar system.

The Venus Transit occurs as a pair of events separated by eight years. The first of the current cycle of events took place in June 2004. The last complete Venus Transit took place in December 1874 and December 1882; the next will happen in 2117.

“This is a very rare event—the kind of thing you can only see once in a lifetime,” says Dr. A. J. Poelarends, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy. “Everyone who is interested in astronomy and would like to see this event should stop by—from astrophysicists and amateur astronomers to families and children.”

Because seeing the Venus Transit involves looking directly at the sun, people should not try to view it without protective filters. The Observatory, located on the fourth floor of the Science Center, is equipped with five telescopes that allow for safe viewing, including two Questars with white-light solar filters; two Hydrogen-alpha telescopes; and a Stellarvue SV115 telescope equipped with a solar filter.

The Stellarvue scope, mounted atop the College’s Planewave telescope located in the Observatory dome, will make real-time video recordings of the transit, which will be broadcast in several places throughout the Science Center.

Poelarends suggests three prime times for viewing the event: at 5:04 p.m., when Venus first touches the sun; at 5:21, when Venus appears to be “inside” the sun; and 8:22, when the visible portion of the transit ends.

More information about the Transit of Venus is available at transitofvenus.org. There is no cost to attend the viewing. The Science Center is located at 430 Howard Street in Wheaton. Parking is available in the lot at the corner of Howard Street and College Avenue. For more information, please call 630.752.5894.