Unless you plan on living to the year 2117 you may want to reserve some time to observe the Transit of Venus (ToV) next Tuesday afternoon. On June 5 the planet Venus will pass in front of the Sun and appear as a small black dot.
In Denver the transit will start at 4:05pm MDT. Mid transit will occur at 7:25pm MDT. The transit will still be in progress as the Sun sets at 8:23pm MDT.
A cautionary note: Observing the Sun without proper equipment or safe indirect viewing methods can be very hazardous to your vision. Under no circumstances should you look directly at the Sun without proper filters. Even if one is stupid enough to look directly at the Sun they will not see Venus. The Sun is simply too bright.
In the Denver area you can observe this rare event at DU’s historic Chamberlin Observatory and at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science between the hours of 4pm and 8pm MDT. A variety of telescopes will be available. Fiske Planetarium will also have a program in Boulder.
If you would like to try it on your own here is an excellent video by Paul Floyd, from the land down under, on how to safely observe the transit. If you have a cheap telescope or old binoculars definitely watch.
Paul makes an important point. Eclipse glasses are great for observing partial solar eclipses. Not so great for observing the transit of Venus. You will need excellent eyesight to see Venus because Venus is very, very small. Try it if you got them, but don’t be disappointed if you have difficulty seeing the transit. This will also be true of most pinhole projection methods. You simply can’t get the image big enough. This was one of the shocking discoveries made in the first observation in 1639. Venus was smaller, and the Sun was much bigger and further away than thought.
If you want to make it easy on yourself, you can watch the transit on NASA TV or on the internet at Nasa, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Kick Observatory in Hawaii, or Slooh Space Camera. If it is cloudy in Denver, I’ll be watching it on the internet, the next best thing.
The transit of Venus has only been observed six times; 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882, and 2004. The first, in 1639, was observed by only two people, Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree. The 2004 event, which took place over Europe, was the first to be widely viewed. The 2012 transit will be the first to be widely viewed by the U.S. public.
If you really want to learn more, the BBC did an excellent series on the 2004 transit. Here is the first of six parts. It’s entertaining, in typical British fashion, and very informative.
Where is the neatest place in the world to observer the transit? At Point Venus in Tahiti, the exact spot where Captain Cook observed the transit in 1769.
Wishing you clear skies