Transit Of Venus: When, What Is It And How To Safely Watch Extremely Rare Event

By Amir Khan on May 24, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

Transit of Venus
Giovanni Paglioli took this image on June 8, 2004 from Centro Astronomico Neil Armstrong in Salerno, Italy. The transit, or passage, of Venus across the face of the Sun is one of nature’s rarest celestial phenomena. Credit: Giovanni Paglioli/Space.com (Photo: Giovanni Paglioli)

Skywatchers looking up on June 5, 2012 will witness an extremely celestial phenomenon called the "Transit of Venus." The event occurs when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun and is incredibly rare -- since it was first seen in the 17th century, only six Transits of Venus have been observed.

Transits of Venus occur in regular intervals that repeat every 243 years. The intervals are 8 years, 105.5 years, 8 years and 121.5 years. The previous transit occurred 8 years ago on June 8, 2004, and the next one won't occur until December 11, 2117.

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"I think this is the last one I'll see," Dean Pesnell, researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Space.com.

NASA will host a viewing party online to showcase the phenomenon.

"The transit occurs when Venus passes directly between Earth and the sun. Viewers will see Venus as a small dot gliding slowly across our nearest star," NASA says on its website. "Historically, viewed by luminaries like Galileo Galilei, Captain James Cook and even Benjamin Franklin, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system."

The transit will be available from the majority of the planet, but only a few certain places will be able to witness the planet enter and exit the solar disk.

"Weather permitting, the entire seven-hour transit will be widely visible from eastern Asia, eastern Australia, New Zealand and the western Pacific, as well as Alaska, northern Canada and almost all of Greenland," according to MSNBC.

Residents of Washington D.C. will be able to see the event at approximately 6:04 p.m. on June 4. As you move farther west, the event will occur earlier, according to SpaceDaily.

"The 20th Century saw no Transits of Venus; the next one occurred on June 8, 2004," according to SpaceDaily. By this time the size of the solar system had been well-established, so observing the transit became more of an historical event than a scientific one."

While the transit will be viewable with the naked eye, you need to take precautions in order to view it safely. Do not look at the sun directly with a camera, telescope or binoculars, as doing so can result in blindness.

If you plan to watch the Transit of Venus, you can buy special solar filters to put over your equipment or buy number 14 welders glasses. You can also use the solar projection method.

"Use your telescope or one side of your binoculars to project a magnified image of the sun's disk onto a shaded white piece of cardboard," according to Space.com. "The projected image on the cardboard will be safe to look at and photograph. But be sure to cover the telescope's finder scope or the unused half of the binoculars, and don't let anyone look through them."

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