Trek for a Transit

Posted by on June 3, 2012 in Astronomical Event | 0 comments

Trek for a Transit

Distant Sun’s Headquarters for World Domination has temporarily moved from Silicon Valley to Kona, Hawaii for five days. I am here to catch the much ballyhooed (not to be confused with Bollywood), Transit of Venus.A transit is like an eclipse, except by a planet. Venusian transits are very rare, happening only in pairs with each pair over 100 years apart. So we had one about 8 years ago, but only visible in europe, now this one visible from Asia, Pacific and part of it in the US. Then we get a bit of a breather until 2117, but barely visible in the western US. So you may want to catch this one if you can. :-)

The transit is on June 5, for the US, it starts in the afternoon, here about 12:10PM. If you are in a region of visibility check with the new Events feature on Distant Suns 3 to catch any viewing parties sponsored by your local astronomy clubs or science museums.
Because the transits are so rare, astronomers of the past would go to great lengths to study them. For the 1761 transit, over 100 expeditions fanned out around the globe to collect data which would help determine the distance to the sun. One poor gent, Guillaume Le Gentil, left Paris in 1760, but was stuck at sea when the transit occurred, so could not make any accurate measurements. So he decided to stick it out for 8 years for the next one, but it was clouded, something that nearly drove him insane. To make matters worse, when he arrived back home after 11 years, his wife had remarried, and relatives plundered his estate thinking he was dead. Oh well…


The transit tour has been arranged by MWT Associates, a wonderful tour agency that does nothing but astronomy related trips, and does them very well. This is my third trip with them, the previous going to Patagonia for the 2010 eclipse, and Florence, Italy, for the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s observations in 2009. There is always at least one, and sometimes more, astronomy luminaries to serve as “bait.” This time we have David Eicher, editor of Astronomy Magazine, and Alex Filippenko, famed astronomer from UC Berkeley who specializes in supernovas. You may have seen him on many episodes of NOVA, and other astronomy related series.


Both spoke this morning, Dave Eicher on his meteorite collation, and Dr. Filippenko, on black holes and the future of the universe. This evening is a sunset cruise, and a trip up to elevation 13,600 feet to visit the Keck Observatory. Much of Dr. Filippenko’s research uses one of the Keck telescopes, and he recently qualified for 6 nights to study a new supernova.
I’ll be reporting on this tomorrow, and if there’s a decent ATT signal up on top at the observatories I’ll try some live tweeting (@distantsuns).


And those of you with the new Distant Suns 3.3.3 update, you can simulate the transit by setting the sun’s size to normal, lock onto venus, zoom in to about 1 degree field of view so Venus’s 3D rendering kicks in, and set the date/time as needed.