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Transit Of Venus Only A Day Away…Are You Prepared?

June 4, 2012
Image Caption: Venus appears as a black dot on the lower left edge of the sun in this image from NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE), captured during the 2004 transit. Credit: NASA/TRACE/LMSAL

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Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com

If you aren’t looking up towards the sun tomorrow with the proper eye equipment, then a special moment is going to pass you by.

The Transit of Venus is taking place on Tuesday, and it will not be seen again until 2117.

The transits of Venus occur in pairs once every 100 years, so this upcoming transit is the last until the next generation gets their opportunity.

Astronaut Don Pettit is up in the International Space Station armed with a camera and a solar filter, ready to start snapping photos of the transit from space.

“I’ve been planning this for a while,” Pettit, who serves as Flight Engineer onboard the International Space Station, said in a press release. “I knew the Transit of Venus would occur during my rotation, so I brought a solar filter with me when my expedition left for the ISS in December 2011.”

The expedition 31 crew aboard the station will be the first people in history to see a Venus transit from space.

Petit will be pointing his camera through the side windows of the space station’s observatory module.

“For this transit, Don will be removing the non-optical quality, internal protective window panes known as ‘scratch panes,’ which really make crisp, sharp, and clear images impossible,” Mario Runco, Jr. of the Johnson Space Center, said in a press release. “Removing those panes is a huge plus when it comes to details that will be seen in the imagery of the sun.”

Pettit said he will be using a Nikon D2X camera with an 800mm lens to capture the solar event.

The last Transit of Venus was back in 2004, and astronauts did not witness the transit because they did not have the proper equipment to view the sun back then.

During Tuesday’s transit, Venus will only be covering a small portion of the Sun, so viewers need to use solar filters in order to capture images of the event.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be observing the transit to help calibrate its instruments, as well as learn more about Venus’ atmosphere.

SDO will be able to use the unique opportunity to make sure its images are oriented to solar North when pointing at the sun.

The team using SDO will also use the lightless center of Venus to help calibrate the point spread function of the telescope.  This function describes how much light leaks from one pixel into others around it.

“Venus is a fascinating yet horrendously extreme place all at once,” Sue Smrekar, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a press release.  “Although the surface is hot enough to melt lead due to its runaway greenhouse atmosphere, in many respects it is Earth’s twin [size, gravity and bulk composition].”

Venus is the third brightness object in the sky because its orbit brings it closest to Earth of all the planets.

Scientists will be able to understand more about Venus’ atmosphere as it becomes partially transparent to the telescope on SDO Tuesday.

The transit will also help scientists understand a little more in their hunt for exoplanets.  When observing these planets, scientists look for a dip in the amount of light coming towards Earth, which is caused by a planet transiting between its star and Earth.

Scientists will be able to get a better picture and detail of what to look for when future exoplanets transit in front of their stars.

Modern scientists are not the only ones who used the transit to study the nearby planet, the Babylonians wrote about seeing the transit back in 1600 B.C.

“Throughout history, Venus has been one of the most studied and speculated-about celestial bodies in our sky, and the same truth will hold well after this transit is over,” Smrekar said in the press release. “Venus is a remarkable world with many lessons for us about the climate and interior of Earth and Earth-like planets in other solar systems.”

Tomorrow’s transit will only be visible in its entirety in the western Pacific, eastern Asia, eastern Australia and high northern latitudes.

The transit will begin in the afternoon hours of June 5, and will last until June 6 for European countries as the sun rises.


Source: Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com



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