Etscorn hosts viewing party of Venus transit

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Venus will pass across the sun this Tuesday, an event that will not occur again for 105 years. To celebrate the event, Etscorn Observatory on the New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro will be hosting a viewing event to be followed immediately by a star viewing party.

At 4:05 p.m., Venus will make first contact with the sun, and it will pass across the sun over the course of several hours. Socorro, as well as most of the U.S., is in the zone that will be able to see the first part of the event, which will last until well after sunset. This event, properly called the transit of Venus, happens twice every century or so, with each paired transit separated by eight years.

According to Jon Spargo of the NMT Astronomy Club, the observatory will have two or three telescopes filtered for direct viewing of the sun.

“One of those telescopes allows light to enter it only at the preferred wavelength of hydrogen,” he said. “The neat thing about that is that if you look at the edge, you’ll be able to see the prominences at the edge of the sun. And of course you’ll be able to see sunspots — there are three groups of sunspots right now.”

The observatory will track the event through sunset, with a star party immediately after.

“Right now, the planet Saturn is extremely well-placed for viewing, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Saturn through the 20-inch telescope,” Spargo said.

Venus is about the size of Earth, and according to Sky & Telescope magazine, the shadow cast by Venus will be 3 percent of the width of the sun.

While Etscorn’s event is free and open to the public, there are options for viewing the transit of Venus from home. However, as with any event that requires direct viewing of the sun, there is the potential for eye injury if proper equipment is not used. Spargo recommends eclipse glasses or No. 14 welding glass. Viewing with regular sunglasses are likely to do damage to the retina.

When asked whether people will be able to see the event without a telescope, Spargo said, “Maybe, depends on your vision.”

Sky & Telescope recommended a simple test for naked-eye visibility: Cut a 66 millimeter (2.6 inch) disk of paper and put a 2 mm dot on it, then put it 7 meters (23 feet) away. If the dot is visible, Venus will be too.

For more information on the transit of Venus, go to www.transitofvenus.org. For more information on the Etscorn Observatory event, go to www.mro.nmt.edu/transit-of-venus-join-us-for-a-public-nrao-etscorn-mro-event/.

 

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