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Planet watchers ready as Venus to cross in front of sun Tuesday

June 2nd, 2012 11:16 pm by Kevin Castle

In 1883 the last rivet was driven into the Brooklyn Bridge, thousands were killed in the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano, and the planet Venus made a visible transit across the sun.

Where Venus is concerned, history is scheduled to repeat itself Tuesday as officials with East Tennessee State University and Bays Mountain Planetarium plan a special viewing of the planet in Johnson City at the campus’s Basler Center front lawn beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Planetarium program administrator Jason Dorfman says this will be the second time since 2004 that Venus will be visible from Earth because of its set of transits, which occur eight years apart in front of the sun.

“The (pairs of Venus transits) are separated by 105 years and 121 years, so the next one will not come around until the year 2117. That is what makes it rare, and for most of us, this will mark the last time we will see Venus transit at the sun,” he said.

Thousands of eyes, natural and artificial, are sure to be locked on the planet for the once-in-a-lifetime planet gaze, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and observers with the European Space Agency.

According to, scientists plan to examine the gases that surround Venus using the sunlight that will be filtered through the planet’s atmosphere — collecting data that has only been obtained on six different occasions since the invention of the telescope in the 1600s.

The rare sight will be the size of a speck on the sun’s surface.

“It’s going to be a little black dot crossing in front of the sun,” said Dorfman. “It’s not the same when we have a solar eclipse and the moon passes in front of the sun because the moon is as big or bigger than the sun at that point because it is much closer to the Earth. You’ll still see it (Venus). It’s just going to be small because of the distance.

“We just hope the weather holds out and we’ll get clear skies. Not only do you get to see Venus cross in front of the sun, but you’ll get to see the sun in a safe way with lots of different types of telescopes and filters that will allow you to see layers of the sun.”

The planetarium is also showing a presentation based on the event, “When Venus Transits the Sun,” at the park complex through June 8 at 1 and 4 p.m. daily. The cost is $4 per person.

Learn more about the park’s Astronomy Club and other planetarium features by visiting and clicking on “astronomy.”

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