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WKU hosting Transit of Venus viewing party June 5 for once-in-a-lifetime event

WKU hosting Transit of Venus viewing party June 5 for once-in-a-lifetime event

It won’t happen again for 105 years.

On June 5, Venus will pass between the Earth and the sun, and WKU is helping the public view this once-in-a-lifetime event.

The Transit of Venus viewing party will begin at 5 p.m. in Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium and continue until sunset. During the free event, participants will have access to special protective solar viewing shades, be able to view the transit through telescopes provided by WKU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and view on the scoreboard a live feed of the transit from NASA telescopes in Hawaii.

Other activities for younger audiences are also being planned, according to Physics and Astronomy Professor and Hardin Planetarium Director Richard Gelderman.

“The June 5, 2012, transit of Venus is a truly rare celestial phenomenon,” Dr. Gelderman said. “There are only six times that this event has been observed by humans, the most recent being in 1882 and 2004.”

During the transit, he said Venus will appear as a black dot about 1/30th the apparent diameter of the sun, and it will slowly move across the sun’s disc.

“Observers should also expect to see clusters of sunspots on the sun,” he said. “And when Venus first touches the edge of the sun, it is likely we will be able to see the ‘black drop’ effect where Venus appears elongated.”

Provost Gordon Emslie said observers may have noticed that Venus has been sinking in the evening sky as it approaches the sun, a prelude to the rare transit.

“The faculty and staff of the Department of Physics and Astronomy has worked hard to assemble a program that allows viewing of the transit safely, and experts will be on hand to answer questions,” Dr. Emslie said. “We are excited to provide the citizens of our region with an opportunity to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

The transit has historical and scientific significance, Dr. Gelderman said. In 1716, astronomer Edmond Halley calculated that the distance from the sun to the Earth can be determined by having observers across the globe time the passage of Venus across the sun.

“These transits are extremely rare and Halley did not live to see the next transit,” he said. “However, the quest to time the very next transit of Venus—in 1761 during the Seven Years War—marked one of the first times the international community cooperated to answer one of the leading scientific questions of the day—How big is our solar system?  For every transit opportunity since then, explorers sailed to distant lands to time the transit.”

During this event, light passing through Venus’ atmosphere and reflecting off the moon will be analyzed by the Hubble Space Telescope’s spectrometer in an attempt to determine the planet’s chemical composition, he said.

The transit has even been celebrated in music.  John Philip Sousa composed the “Transit of Venus March” after the 1882 transit, he said.

More information on the transit is available online at http://transitofvenus.org; http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2012/transit and http://www.exploratorium.edu/venus/.

Contact: Richard Gelderman, (270) 745-6203.

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