Event: View Venus dance across the sun

A once-in-a-lifetime event with implications for space travel is occurring Tuesday, June 5 and the University of Central Florida is providing community members a front-row-seat to the celestial phenomenon.

Venus, the planet named after the goddess of love and beauty, will be transiting in front of the sun beginning just after 6 p.m. That means that people on Earth, with the proper equipment, will be able to see Venus move across the sun from one side to the other in a 6 1/2 hour-stretch, although from Florida the sun will have set before the transit finishes.

The UCF Robinson Observatory is hosting the viewing party starting at 6 p.m., but because of the time and location of the transit, the best location will be on the top floor of Garage A on the Orlando campus.

So students and faculty from the university’s Planetary Sciences Group in the Department of Physics and volunteers from the local Astronomy Society will be on hand with telescopes and specialized glasses on the top floor of Garage A to help the public safely see the event up until sunset (about 8:15 p.m.). The group cautions against looking directly at the sun at anytime, including during this event because damage to the eyes can occur.

“It should be really exciting,” said Yan Fernandez, an associate professor at UCF who specializes in comets and asteroids and will be at the viewing. “This event in the 18th and 19th Centuries was very important. It was one of the ways scientists in Europe tried to measure the absolute distance from the earth to the Sun. We have better methods now, but it’s still really quite the sight to see, especially since the next one won’t happen for 105 years.”

Internationally, astronomers will use the event as an opportunity to fine-tune some modern day instruments they use to hunt for planets outside the solar system.

“This event will help us calibrate several different instruments, and hunt for extrasolar planets with atmospheres.,” said Frank Hill, director of the National Solar Observatory’s Integrated Synoptic Program in Tucson, AZ.

The National Solar Observatory will be broadcasting the event and will be posting real-time feeds to http://venustransit.nso.edu.

But for a real-world experience, Fernandez said the place to be is UCF.

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