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Transit of Venus

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Transit of Venus

Postby Dave » Wed 6 Jun 2012 12:52 GMT

Did any of you watch the transit of Venus this morning?

For those who don't know what the transit of Venus is: Venus's orbit is closer to the Sun than the Earth's, so every so often when we look directly at the Sun we can see Venus move across it. A bit like a solar eclipse, only it takes much longer and doesn't look anything like as impressive to the naked eye (in fact, it's unlikely most people would even notice it).

So what's the big deal? Well, for one thing it doesn't happen very often - it follows a regular sequence of four transits over 243 years, with gaps of 8, 105, 8 and 121 years between transits. The last one was in 2004, the next isn't unti 2117.

For another, it was a hugely important thing for earlier astronomers as it gave them the means of working out the Earth's distance from the Sun and thus other distances in space.

The event itself doesn't look terribly exciting unless you've got quite sophisticated equipment. Ideally you'd want a decent-sized telescope to cast a projection of the Sun onto a piece of white card. I had a pair of 8x30 binoculars and a sheet of A4 paper.

Anyway, here it is:
Image
The big white disc is the Sun. Venus is that big round dot towards the bottom of the Sun. (I did say it didn't look that impressive.)

Maybe you were expecting something bigger? Well, Venus's orbit lies 26 million miles away or so inside the Earth's, and it's slightly smaller than the Earth, so you'd imagine it looks pretty small relative to the Sun even though it's much closer (the Sun's 93 million miles away on average).
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Postby Graeme » Wed 6 Jun 2012 13:50 GMT

It was thick cloud all day (unusually) here so I had to check it out on the TV, would have liked to have seen it in person though. I don't think I'll be here for the next time around. :(
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Postby Dave » Wed 6 Jun 2012 15:51 GMT

It's chucking it down with rain right now here - luckily we rarely get rain in the mornings (which is when the transit happened here in SE Asia), and today was bright and mostly clear sky.

The BBC Future site has a good article about Venus here, with a couple of pics:
Transit of Venus: Spotting Earth's "evil twin"
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Postby ruggie » Fri 8 Jun 2012 10:27 GMT

Nice pic, Dave. 10/10 cloud round here, so I missed it - and I guess I shan't be around for the next one.
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Postby Dave » Fri 8 Jun 2012 10:39 GMT

Thanks, Ruggie. You wouldn't believe how tricky it is trying to hold the binoculars steady in one hand while trying to operate your mobile phone camera with the other. ;-)
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Postby gozomark » Fri 8 Jun 2012 18:05 GMT

There was a really interesting BBC prog on this on Horizon - its downloadable from UKNova for free, maybe youtube as well
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