Observers on the North Coast are well-positioned to see the last transit of Venus in our lifetimes on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. The celestial phenomenon begins shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT, when the inner planet appears to straddle the solar limb and is visible until the sun sets with Venus halfway across the sun. In past centuries, transits of Venus were significant as nations collaborated to quantify the size of the solar system and embarked on global expeditions. Today the rare alignment exemplifies how astronomers detect planets orbiting distant stars using the transit method. We have a front row seat, and can view with our eyes what the NASA Kepler Mission hopes to capture many light years away with its sensitive photometer. With some tips, caveats and legal disclaimers, Chuck's presentation will encourage you to do what Momma (and smart astronomers) generally advise against--stare at the sun. Bring safe observing opportunities to your community, participate actively in a transit of Venus experiment and marvel at the solar system in motion on June 5, 2012.
A Special Session of the American Astronomical Society (AAS)
History of Astronomy Division (HAD)
Sunday, Jan 08, 2012, 1:00 PM - 3:40 PM
The June 6, 2012, transit of Venus, completing the pair that began on June 8, 2004, will represent the last chance to observe one of these rare events from Earth until the next pair, December 11, 2117, and December 8, 2125. This year’s transit will be extremely advantageous as almost all the most populated areas of the Earth will be able to see at least some of the transit: the only land masses from which no part of the transit will be visible are the western Iberian peninsula, the western part of Africa, the eastern part of South America, and Antarctica. We invite presentations on both important historical aspects of the transits of Venus and modern applications. From a historical point of view, the occasion is of importance in providing a point of departure for a reconsideration of the singular importance of the transits in the history of astronomy and in the geographical exploration of the Earth, which led to massive preparations and far flung expeditions in the eighteenth century in pursuit of the Halleyan project of determining the solar parallax. The nineteenth-century transits also played out against a background rivalries among the great European world empires (England, Russia, France, and the U.S.) then at their height and then sliding imperceptibly but ineluctably toward the Great War. The 2012 transit offers an opportunity to revisit the important expeditions of the past—many of which have been catalogued and some noted by markers or restored—and to engage in “experimental archaeology,” the reconstruction of past observations, including of the Black Drop and luminous aureole, about which it was and is often mistakenly stated that, particularly for the earliest observations, it is produced by refraction by the atmosphere of Venus. Possible observations of special historical interest in 2012 could include some using historical instruments and techniques or observing from the same locations as earlier observers. But far from being an entirely retrospective exercise, the history of transit observations defines critical problems to be addressed by modern high-resolution observations from Earth and space. These include the detailed profiling of the atmosphere of Venus with ground-based and space-based observations (from satellites meant to study the Sun) and the study of a local analogue to exoplanet transits across their parent stars, the focus of many contemporary astrophysical investigations and space missions whose key astrophysical goals are to understand the prevalence and structure of planetary systems very different from our own solar system. In short, though often said to be of strictly historical interest owing to the fact that the Halleyan solar parallax method has long since been superseded, transits of Venus continue to be of great importance to astronomers and astrophysicists working at the cutting edge of important problems of our own day. See http://www.transitofvenus.info and http://www.transitofvenus.org.
Because the barcode-reading software employs error correction, I can overlay a semi-transparent image and still get accurate barcode reader results. The image below is from SOHO spacecraft with a silhouette of Venus and black drop added manually, though admittedly in the 2004 orientation for now.
For the day of the transit you may want to have certificates available that include a place for the participants to mark their observed times of internal contact.
On display at the poster session will be my Countdown to the Transit of Venus (left), which answers some common FAQs about the transit, addresses the June 5/6 confusion, and suggests some ways for educators and students to be active in the 2012 transit of Venus experience. Please introduce yourself to me during the dedicated poster time, or look for me during the rest of the conference. I welcome your input, suggestions, and corrections.
The Transit of Venus Project is organized by dedicated volunteers who seek sponsorship support for several aspects, including the Transit of Venus phone app. For a modest investment you can have front billing to what Google Zeitgeist deemed the #1 Most Popular Event in the the world in June 2004. Now is the time to step up, both for astronomy education and for corporate prominence.
Mark the date on your calendar – June 5, 2012. That Tuesday (for North American viewers) we have an unparalleled opportunity to promote astronomy education and public outreach as the last transit of Venus of our lifetimes takes place. This rare event has happened only seven times since the telescope was invented more than 400 years ago. The last Venus transit in June 2004 – the first since the 19th century – was such a global sensation that Google’s Zeitgeist proclaimed it the #1 Most Popular Event in the world for the whole month! With your participation and support we can surpass even that incredible success. Read on to see how you can contribute to an unprecedented effort to engage the astronomy community, educators and the public in this historic event.
Expeditions sent around the world during the 18th and 19th century to observe this rare event and to time its occurrence from widespread locations in an attempt to measure the scale of the solar system are the stuff of legend. In 2012, professional and amateur astronomers will replicate historic Venus transit observations, some using antique instruments at historic sites. There are several projects already being planned for locations where the transit is visible. For observers in the continental United States, Venus will appear on the Sun’s limb in the afternoon, slowly gliding across its face until the pair sets in the west.
Each century since Jeremiah Horrocks first recorded the 1639 transit of Venus, astronomers have developed new tools to tease more information from this rare dance of the planets. Great advances were made as telescopes, photography, and satellites were utilized, and the 21st century adds its own unique new technology. I and other volunteers are creating a phone app that observers worldwide will use to contribute their observations to the global effort to quantify the Astronomical Unit, the distance from Earth to the Sun that is the primary yardstick of the Solar System. The tap of a button is all that’s needed to mark the time of internal contact and send it, along with observer's location and local time, to a global database. The app will also help users find local observing events, live webcasts, online programming, and more from various social media. Developed under the aegis of Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) (http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/), the app will be widely distributed free to the public by AWB and others.
As of this writing there are no apps that address the transit of Venus among the hundreds of thousands of apps available, despite the event’s known popularity. The app and the programs that will utilize it will give you and your audience an easy, fun way to participate in this rare event. Just as previous transit of Venus expeditions (such as James Cook's first voyage) contributed to international efforts, the modern global astronomy community can measure the size of the solar system we inhabit – all without the difficulties, dangers and expense of the historic expeditions. This time, everyone can take part. It fits with the AWB slogan – One People, One Sky.
Be bold. While major funders are being sought, this volunteer effort needs the early support of those like you who understand the value of engaging the public during rare celestial events. With only one year remaining we need to keep the momentum going with the aid of those closest to the project. Send the major funders a message that the astronomy community endorses and supports this important effort.
Please support this important educational project by making a donation on the AWB web site. Your donation will be made via credit card through PayPal, but you DO NOT need a PayPal account to donate. If you or your organization prefers to donate by check, you can send a check made payable to Astronomers Without Borders to AWB, 26500 Agoura Rd., Suite 102-618, Calabasas, CA 91301.
With increased web traffic, major sponsors will have a chance to jump in as well. Steven Van Roode is developing a portal website at www.transitofvenus.nl to accommodate the high traffic that is expected. In 2004 my own website, www.transitofvenus.org, crashed after six million hits (!), so for 2012 we’re building more capacity and employing more robust internet practices.
Please contact me to discuss the transit of Venus phone app or any other aspects of this last transit of Venus in your lifetime. With the 2012 transit of Venus just one year away we need to act now – to prepare teachers at workshops, to ask bands to perform John Phillip Sousa's Transit of Venus March, to confirm unobstructed telescopic sight-lines to the sun, to get into printed community calendars, to register for astronomy conferences, to donate to the cause--I gotta get going!
Thanks for all you do to bring astronomy to the public, and for supporting our efforts to bring modern technology to the 2012 transit of Venus experience.
Read article: Seeking Goddess for Instant Astronomical Gratification (PDF)
Notre Dame is poised to lead instruction in capturing astronomical images through rooftop telescopes with charge-coupled devices (CCDs) and then manipulating the digital data to yield valuable images. The university has a bank of quality telescopes, digital recording equipment, supporting software, and skilled astronomy educators to support the program. Later in 2011 it expects to install a new 0.8-meter telescope in the observatory atop Jordan Hall of Science.
The proposed ASTRO workshops will guide teachers in photographing celestial highlights like transits of moons around Jupiter, with one of the goals being to prepare a corps of educators who can lead transit of Venus imaging and outreach in 2012. Dates for the image processing workshops are expected to be announced in March 2011.
Notre Dame has a history of participating in transits of Venus, with observations (or attempts at it) using their Napoleon III telescope dating back to the 1874/1882 pair of transits. See history/1874-1882/191-notre-dame-transits-of-venus.
Photos: Educators fill the room (above) during the Forum IV ASTRO session, while Caroline Fletcher (upper right) and Aaron McNeely (lower right) share their enthusiasm for digital imaging of transits.
Below is a letter sent to the White House in mid-November, 2010, via http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact. I encourage you to write comparable invitations to your own political representatives, such as state governors and regional officials, to share your enthusiasm for using the transit of Venus as an opportunity to promote education.
Dear President Obama,
I write to invite you and the First Family to lead the nation in science education through your active participation in a rare celestial event occurring June 5, 2012. On that day, observers in North America will be well positioned to witness a Transit of Venus, in which the planet Venus can be seen passing directly in front of the sun.
Specifically, I request that you observe the phenomenon through a filtered telescope, record the time when Venus touches the inside edge of the sun, and contribute your observation to a global experiment through a simple phone app. This will be the last transit of Venus in our lifetimes.