Transit of Venus Viewed by Hundreds at UCI Observatory

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Ed Joyce

At L.A.'s Griffith Observatory, at the UC Irvine Observatory and across the Southland, gawkers gathered Tuesday afternoon to witness Venus move like a small black dot across the face of the sun.

Several hundred turned out at UC Irvine, peering though telescopes with solar filters to see something they’ll never see again.

Many bought special “eclipse” glasses from the UCI Observatory for $2 to watch as Venus traveled across the face of the Sun.

The UCI Observatory also projected the image of the sun on several large yellow poster boards for safe viewing.

The Director of the UCI Observatory and an Associate Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Tammy Smecker-Hane, said when planets dim the light of the Sun, it is an opportunity for discovery.

“Transits are the way we actually can find planets around other stars,” she said. “Actually, that’s the more modern reason transits are famous. So, when a planet, like Jupiter, goes in front of a Sun-like star, it dims the light of the Sun because Jupiter actually blocks the Sun’s light from getting to you.”

Smecker-Hane said the Kepler Mission, where a satellite orbiting in space, is looking for transits is a way to find new planets.

“Transits of planets across the faces of the stars they orbit are very important to astronomers because it is one of the few ways we can actually find planets in other solar systems,” she said. “The Kepler is monitoring the brightness of roughly 100,000 stars, looking for transits of planets and they’ve found thousands.”

People lined up at several telescopes at the UCI Observatory to see Venus cross the sun.

"It was really cool and I like never saw that before," said a smiling 11-year-old Sofia Rosenblatt of Mission Viejo, after looking through one of the huge telescopes with a solar filter to see Venus as it passed by the Sun.

Many people brought their own telescopes to the Observatory and shared them with visitors, reducing the lines at the UCI telescopes.

After the sunset, many stayed behind to look at Saturn and Mars though the powerful telescopes.

If you missed this rare astronomical event, don't worry; the Transit of Venus will be happening again in 2117.