A rare transit of Venus will be visible at local sunrise throughout the Mideast on the morning of Wednesday June 6, 2012. A transit occurs when one celestial body passes in front of another from an observer’s point of view. A solar eclipse is a kind of transit. The most familiar kind of transit is a solar eclipse, where the moon– or much more frequently, a portion of the moon, transits the sun. Several solar eclipses can occur with in a year, but total solar eclipses are much rarer (and from personal experience, much more beautiful!) Because totality can only be seen from a narrow strip of land, 50 to 100 miles across, each location on earth sees a total solar eclipse only about once every 300 years. Parts of the Mideast witnessed a total solar eclipse in 1999 and 2006 (I saw the 2006 one from southern Turkey.) The next solar eclipse in the Mideast wont arrive until August 2, 2027. But there’s always Venus.
Because Venus is much farther away than the moon, it won’t cover the entire sun. In fact, if you wear safe eclipse shades and watch the June 6 sunrise, you might find yourself singing King of Pain by Sting and the Police… “There’s a little black spot on the sun today…” Don’t worry, the spot might just be barely visible unmagnified through eclipse shades. It won’t be big enough to affect your solar energy plans.
The good news is that although Venus doesn’t cover up much of the sun, the transit is visible from any part of the earth which faces the sun during the transit. For the Mideast, this transit begins slightly before sunrise and ends as the sun rises further from the horizon.
How do I see Venus?
First of all, never look directly at the sun. Secondly, never look directly at the sun!!! Don’t look at it during a partial solar eclipse, don’t look at it one second or six years after a total solar eclipse. Don’t look at it 15 years before a total solar eclipse. Don’t look at it with sunglasses, telescopes, binoculars, floppy disks, unexposed color slide film, overexposed color negative film or camera lenses. The sun can instantly burn a hole in your retina, leaving a permanent blind spot which will take up the detailed central part of your vision.
Some sites have a series of charts indicating how it will look from various locations. For example, here is their page for Damascus Syria (PDF).
Projection on paper is the safest option
Another good option is to project the image of the sun onto a sheet of paper with a pair of binoculars. An inexpensive pair should work as long as you can hold it steady. Aim the front end towards the sun and hold the eyepiece end at least 6 inches off the paper. Focus with the binoculars focus knob but I have to stress again, do not look through them! Holding the binoculars farther away gives a bigger and dimmer image. If you’re creative, you can cut a binoculars sized hole in a cardboard box for more shade and a clearer view of the transit.
A Venus transit doesn’t last long and isn’t nearly as spectacular as a total solar eclipse. But it is rare. Venus transits occur in pairs, the last one was in 2004, this one is in 2012 but the next pair will be December 2117 and December 2125. So savor the moment!
Lower Creative Commons image by Nils Ölmedal via wikipedia. Top image of a Venus transit from Shutterstock