Clouds part for Transit of Venus from Princeton University

by Ken Kremer on June 10, 2012

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Transit of Venus snapped from Princeton University at 6:19 p.m. June 5, 2012
This image was taken with a Questar telescope at 6:19 p.m. as the clouds over Princeton, NJ temporarily parted to the delight of hundreds of onlookers and whole families. Hundreds attended the Transit of Venus public outreach observing event organized jointly by Princeton University Astrophysics Dept and telescopes provided by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), local astronomy club, and NASA provided solar viewing glasses. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

Despite a horrendous weather forecast, the clouds parted – at least partially – just in the nick of time for a massive crowd of astronomy and space enthusiasts gathered at Princeton University to see for themselves the dramatic start of the Transit of Venus shortly after 6 p.m. EDT as it arrived at and crossed the limb of the Sun.

And what a glorious view it was for the well over 500 kids, teenagers and adults who descended on the campus of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey for a viewing event jointly organized by the Astrophysics Dept and the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), the local astronomy club to which I belong.

See Transit of Venus astrophotos snapped from Princeton, above and below by Astrophotographer and Prof. Bob Vanderbei of Princeton U and a AAAP club member.

Transit of Venus snapped from Princeton University - full sized image
This photo was taken with a Questar telescope at 6:26 p.m. on June 5, 2012 - it’s a stack of eight - 2 second images. Stacking essentially eliminates the clouds. Hundreds attended the Transit of Venus observing event organized jointly by Princeton University Astrophysics Dept and telescopes provided by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), local astronomy club. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

It was gratifying to see so many children and whole families come out at dinner time to witness this ultra rare celestial event with their own eyes – almost certainly a last-in-a-lifetime experience that won’t occur again for another 105 years until 2117. The crowd gathered on the roof of Princeton’s Engineering Dept. parking deck – see photos

Excited crowd witnesses last-in-a-lifetime Transit of Venus from campus rooftop on Princeton University. Onlookers gathered to view the rare Transit of Venus event using solar telescopes provided by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP) and solar glasses provided by NASA and lectures from Princeton University Astrophysics Dept.
Credit: Ken Kremer

For the next two and a half hours until sunset at around 8:30 p.m. EDT, we enjoyed spectacular glimpses as Venus slowly and methodically moved across the northern face of the sun as the racing clouds came and went on numerous occasions, delighting everyone up to the very end when Venus was a bit more than a third of the way through the solar transit.

Indeed the flittering clouds passing by in front of Venus and the Sun’s active disk made for an especially eerie, otherworldly and constantly changing scene for all who observed through about a dozen AAAP provided telescopes properly outfitted with special solar filters for safely viewing the sun.

Kids of all ages enjoy the Transit of Venus from a rooftop at Princeton University. Solar telescopes provided by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), solar glasses provided by NASA and lectures from Princeton University Astrophysics Dept. Credit: Ken Kremer

As part of this public outreach program, NASA also sent me special solar glasses to hand out as a safe and alternative way to directly view the sun during all solar eclipses and transits through your very own eyes – but not optical aids such as cameras or telescopes.

Transit of Venus snapped from Princeton University - quarter sized image
This photo was taken with a Questar telescope at 6:26 p.m. on June 5, 2012 - it’s a stack of eight - 2 second images. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

Altogether the Transit lasted 6 hours and 40 minutes for those in the prime viewing locations such as Hawaii – from where NASA was streaming a live Transit of Venus webcast.

You should NEVER look directly at the sun through any telescopes or binoculars not equipped with special eye protection – because that can result in severe eye injury or permanent blindness!

We in Princeton were quite lucky to observe anything because other astro friends and fans in nearby areas such as Philadelphia, PA and Brooklyn, NY reported seeing absolutely nothing for this last-in-a-lifetime celestial event.

Transit of Venus enthusiasts view the solar transit from Princeton University rooftop using special solar glasses provided by NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer

Princeton’s Astrophysics Department organized a series of lectures prior to the observing sessions about the Transit of Venus and how NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope currently uses the transit method to detect and discover well over a thousand exoplanet and planet candidates – a few of which are the size of Earth and even as small as Mars, the Red Planet.

NASA’s Curiosity rover is currently speeding towards Mars for an August 6 landing in search of signs of life. Astronomers goal with Kepler’s transit detection method is to search for Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone that could potentially harbor life !

So, NASA and astronomers worldwide are using the Transit of Venus in a scientifically valuable way – beyond mere enjoyment – to help refine their planet hunting techniques.

Doing an outreach program for NASA, science writer Dr Ken Kremer distributes special glasses to view the transit of Venus across the sun during a viewing session on the top level of a parking garage at the E-quad at Princeton University to see the transit of Venus across the sun on Tuesday evening, June 5, 2012. Michael Mancuso/The Times


Historically, scientists used the Transit of Venus over the past few centuries to help determine the size of our Solar System.

See more event photos from the local daily – The Trenton Times – here

And those who stayed late after sunset – and while the Transit of Venus was still visibly ongoing elsewhere – were treated to an extra astronomical bonus – at 10:07 p.m. EDT the International Space Station (ISS) coincidentally flew overhead and was visible between more break in the clouds.

The International Space Station (ISS) flew over Princeton University at 10:07 p.m. on June 5 after the sun had set but while the Transit of Venus was still in progress. Credit: Ken Kremer

Transit Of Venus image from Hinode Spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Credit: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin/enhanced by Marco Di Lorenzo

Of course clouds are no issue if you’re watching the Transit of Venus from the ISS or the Hinode spacecraft. See this Hinode Transit image published on APOD on June 9 and enhanced by Marco Di Lorenzo.

This week, local NY & NJ residents also had another extra special space treat – the chance to see another last-in-a-lifetime celestial event: The Transit of Space Shuttle Enterprise across the Manhattan Skyline on a seagoing voyage to her permanent new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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