Thursday, June 07, 2012

Pictures of the Venus Transit and Festivities

Sun setting behind Kitt Peak with transiting Venus
Venus transiting the sun as it sets behind the telescopes of Kitt Peak.  Image (c) 2012 David A Harvey, used with permission.
Tuesday afternoon, the planet Venus passed in front of the Sun as seen by the Earth.  (If you've been reading this blog, you already know that).  The next transit of Venus will happen on December 10-11, 2117 (my birthday, though I don't expect to see it).

Here at Texas A&M University - Commerce, we had an open house at our observatory.  Roughly 150 people came, which is absolutely amazing.  We had to fight some clouds - the transit started behind a thunderstorm, and the last hour that the sun was still up it was hidden behind clouds, and there were enough clouds we closed down early and didn't stay up to view the night sky.  But those who braved the heat and waited out the clouds were treated to quite the spectacle.

In case you missed the transit because of clouds, work, school, sleep or indifference, here are some pictures, both from us and from others.  Picture sources are indicated in the caption.  You may feel free to use any images labeled as being from NASA (here are their terms of use), and you may use any images labeled as from me as long as you attribute them and don't use them for commercial purposes (my terms of use).

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Venus neareth

Venus as seen by the sun-observing satellite SOHO.  In this picture, the sun is blocked by a disk, and the white circle indicates the location of the Sun.  The trails on either side of Venus are artifacts - the planet is so bright, it dazzles the camera.  Image Credit: ESA/NASA
The planet Venus is only four hours away from its date crossing the face of the Sun.  Here are some last minute links and reminders:

Monday, June 04, 2012

Modern transit science

How the Kepler Mission detects planets around other stars.  Image Credit: NASA
The last transit of Venus across the sun for 105.5 years begins in less than 24 hours.  As I wrote last time, past transits were a scientific bonanza, allowing astronomers to determine the size of the solar system and, eventually, distances to other stars.  But in a time when we have spacecraft orbiting Venus, can a transit still provide a scientific return?

The short answer is yes.  We don't expect to learn any groundbreaking new facts about Venus, the Sun, or the Solar System.  But we can use the fact that we already know so much about these objects to make use of this transit by testing our techniques to study planets around other stars.