Last chance this lifetime to see the Transit of Venus

6 June 2012

Australia is one of the best places in the world to see the Transit of Venus.
Australia is one of the best places in the world to see the Transit of Venus.

See the planet Venus cross in front of the sun during the Transit of Venus today, at a public event run by the University of Sydney Physics Society. It's your last chance to see Venus transit the sun until December 2117.

The free event is being run in conjunction with the School of Physics and Faculty of Science, and sponsored by Australia Telescopes. See the Transit of Venus through one of several solar telescopes set up for observing or with transit eye glasses available at the event to be held on the Front Lawns of the University of Sydney. There will also be an internet stream of the transit as seen from other locations.

It's important to note that observers should not look directly at the sun, as this can cause permanent damage to eyesight, and should only use the special transit eye glasses provided or look through the telescopes which have certified protective solar lens filters on them.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, the Julius Sumner Miller Fellow in the University of Sydney's School of Physics, and four researchers from the School of Physics - Professor Tim Bedding, Professor Iver Cairns, Associate Professor Mike Wheatland and Dr Paul Hancock - will give short talks throughout the day on the science of the Transit of Venus, exoplanets and sunspots.

The Transit of Venus holds a significant place in the history of Australia, as James Cook charted the east coast of Australia on his journey to observe the Transit of Venus from Tahiti in 1769. The stated objective of his trip on HMS Endeavour was to study the Transit of Venus to calculate the distance scale of the solar system, which is important not only for science, but also for navigation. After viewing the transit in Tahiti and taking the required measurements, James Cook opened sealed orders from King George III commanding him to search for the great southern continent and claim it for England.

The University of Sydney event will also be collaborating with a group at Hong Kong Polytechnic to replicate James Cook's experiment to find the distance from the Earth to the Sun using measurements of the transit.

Associate Professor Mike Wheatland from the School of Physics.
Associate Professor Mike Wheatland from the School of Physics.

So what will you see? Venus will appear as a tiny round dot crossing the Sun. Venus will take around six and a half hours to travel across the sun, as seen from Earth. Eastern and central Australia are some of the best places on Earth to view the Transit of Venus, as the entire transit will be visible due to the timing - it's daytime and Venus will be above the horizon as viewed from eastern and central Australia. (For those in Western Australia, the transit will start before sunrise, so won't be visible right from the start of the transit.)

Event details

What: Transit of Venus event at the University of Sydney 

When: 10am to 3pm, Wednesday 6 June

Where: Front Lawns outside the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus for talks and viewing. BBQ from 12 to 1pm on Botany Lawn

Cost: Free

If overcast or raining, the Transit of Venus will not be visible and the event will be cancelled.

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