Friday, 25 May 2012

Last Chance in a lifetime

Irish Astronomical Association MEDIA RELEASE
On 6 June Planet Earth will see the last Transit of Venus until December 2117. People in Ireland can see this event, with NorthEast Antrim being best favoured for viewing.
A Transit of Venus occurs when Venus, Earth's 'twin' planet, passes directly across the face of the Sun, as seen from Earth. These events are very rare, with only 6 having been observed in the whole of human history. They usually occur in pairs, 8 years apart, with an interval of over a century until the first of the next pair. The last one occurred in 2004, and was glimpsed through patchy cloud by some members of the public at a viewing event run by the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA) at Botanic Gardens, although some people were unlucky and did not see it at all.
Transits of Venus were very important in the history of astronomy, as they were used to determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and hence the size of the whole Solar System. Now we have other methods to do that, but the events are still fascinating, and their rarity makes them very special. At the time of the last event, in 2004, no-one alive then had ever seen one! But because of increasing life expectancy, it is just possible that a young person of about 4-7 years old who sees this one could still be alive and see the next one in December 2117!


On 6 June, the event will already be well underway as the Sun rises in Ireland, and the transit will end not long after sunrise. Earliest sunrise in June in Ireland occurs in the far NE of the island, so the Antrim coast gives the longest visible duration here.


Venus will appear as a small black dot, just at the limit of naked-eye visibility, slowly moving across the face of the Sun, so a telescope or binoculars will be needed to give a proper view. But NEVER look at the Sun through a telescope or binoculars without proper filters - see safety warning below!


The IAA will run a public viewing session at the Car Park at the East of Garron Point, on the A2 Coast Road, between Carnlough and Glenarriff, starting at 04.40 a.m. The transit will first become visible from there when Venus rises at 04.47. The end of the transit will start at 05.37, when the small round disc of the planet starts to pass off the edge of the Sun, and that process will be complete at 05.53, when the disc of Venus has completely passed off the face of the Sun.


SAFETY: It is very dangerous to look at the Sun with any sort of optical equipment, particularly telescopes or binoculars. Direct observing should only be attempted with proper safe solar filters. If in doubt about your filter, don't look through it.


1. The Irish Astronomical Association is a registered charity dedicated to promoting interest in, and information about, astronomy and space and related topics. It is the oldest and largest astronomical society based in N. Ireland, and the largest amateur astronomy society in Ireland.
2. Venus is the second planet out from the Sun, with Earth being the third. Venus is just slightly smaller than the Earth, and during the transit it will lie 43 million km away from the Earth. It will have an apparent diameter of 57.8 arcsecs, or 0.0160 degrees.
3. The IAA runs public events throughout the year, including free public lectures at QUB, and public outreach events in various locations throughout Northern Ireland, details of which are available on the website: and 
Terry Moseley
PR Officer,
Irish Astronomical Association
Tel. 07979 300842.

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