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Published June 04 2012

MSUM right spot to see Venus transit

MOORHEAD – Astronomy enthusiasts around the area are gearing up for an event today that won’t happen again for another 105 years.

Starting a little bit after 5 p.m., the orbit of planet Venus will take it directly in front of the sun, blocking out a small portion of its light as it crosses between the Earth and the sun – a “transit of Venus,” as astronomers call it.

To the naked eye, though, it won’t be that noticeable without special solar eclipse glasses needed to look into the sun.

Unlike last month’s solar eclipse, which blocked out more than 50 percent of the sun, Venus will only block out roughly 1 percent, said Juan Cabanela, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

To assist the public with safely viewing the rare solar event, MSUM and the F-M Astronomy Club have scheduled a public viewing with telescopes and other special equipment, which Cabanela said will make the transit “absolutely crystal clear.”

The event won’t happen again until December 2117, but Cabanela said this is actually the second time it’s occurred in our lifetime, most recently taking place just eight years ago.

The transits occur in cycles, he said, happening twice in eight years, followed by a 105- or 107-year period, depending on the year. The reason for the odd cycles and the rarity of the event, Cabanela said, is because Venus travels around the sun differently than does Earth.

“Venus’ orbit isn’t perfectly lined up with ours,” he said. “When Venus is between the Earth and the sun, it’s usually a little bit below or above the sun.”

Having missed 2004’s transit due to cloudy conditions, Cabanela is looking forward to today and hoping for clear skies.

“I’m going to get to see something that no one else will get to see for three to four generations,” he said. “I think it’s just going to be fun.”

Today is forecast to be mostly sunny, but in case of clouds or inclement weather, a live webcast of the transit from an observatory in Hawaii will be shown in the MSUM Planetarium in Bridges Hall 167.


If you go

What: A viewing of the transit of Venus

When: Today from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: The M-4 Minnesota State University Moorhead parking lot at the corner of Sixth Avenue South and 11th Street South

Info: Participation is free


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535