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Transit of Venus: See It Now or Wait ‘til 2117

Image of Venus transiting the sun in 2004. The planet is visible near the right edge of the sun.

May 30, 2012 – Venus will pass directly between the Earth and the sun on Tuesday, June 5, and the planet’s rare transit across the face of the sun will present a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity for people in northwestern North America, Hawaii, the western Pacific and northern Asia. The last transit of Venus was in 2004, but the next won’t happen until 2117.

The University of Utah’s Natural History Museum of Utah – in partnership with the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy – will host public viewing opportunities and hands-on activities and lectures on June 4 and June 5. Members of the media are invited to cover the events.

An excellent place to view the transit will be at the Natural History Museum of Utah, where 14 telescopes of varying sizes and solar viewing glasses will be available to visitors.

According to NASA’s eclipse website, Venus will begin its passage across the sun about 4:05 p.m. MDT in Salt Lake City, and will reach its greatest transit, or mid-point, at about 7:25 p.m. MDT. Seen from Salt Lake City, the sun will set well before the transit is complete.

At 7 p.m. Monday, June 4, Ben Bromley, a professor of physics and astronomy at the U, will present a public lecture, “Transiting the Stars: Venus and Planets beyond Our Solar System,” in the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology Building auditorium on campus. His talk is free and open to the public.

Bromley will discuss the historical and contemporary importance of the Transit of Venus, and how astronomers will use this opportunity to develop and test new techniques that can be used to detect and characterize planets outside our solar system.

On Tuesday, June 5, the Natural History Museum of Utah will host a series of events beginning at 3 p.m., including sun and Venus viewing opportunities with telescopes and viewing glasses, hands-on activities, and a chance to win free telescopes. The activities are free with regular museum admission.

Specific activities on June 5 at the Natural History Museum of Utah include:

• Viewing Stations – Participants may interact with Salt Lake Astronomical Society members at 14 telescope stations while viewing the transit through a variety of different telescopes. Ten telescopes will be placed on the Canyon Terrace and four telescopes will be placed on the Sky Terrace.

• Transit of Venus Information Desk – Salt Lake Astronomical Society members will answer specific questions about the transit while participants watch the live NASA feed of the transit on a monitor. This will occur in the Swanner Forum, using one of the projectors in the room. Participants can also view posters and some demonstrations of planet spheres.

• Learn from the Experts – Using lasers, mirrors and gas tubes, representatives from the U’s physics department will encourage participants to explore the different kinds of astronomical light. In addition, department professors will explain how extraterrestrial planets are discovered and how astronomers see stars using a technique called intensity interferometry.

• Solar Glasses – The first 200 attendees will receive a free pair of solar glasses. Solar glass also will be available for purchase in the museum store for $1.

• How Telescopes Work – Visitors will see two different, touchable, disassembled telescopes (mirrored and lensed), and learn how telescopes work, what the differences are among telescopes, and how to purchase the right telescope.

For background and history on Venus transits, see these NASA sites: