“By the time of the next transit of Venus in 2004, the space age had arrived. In the intervening century astronomers and scientists had accumulated a vast body of knowledge relating to Venus and our solar system. Advances in technology meant that we were not only able to record the transit of Venus from space but that hundreds of amateur astronomers could produce their own stunning photographs.”
Transit of Venus, 1631 The Present
by Mark Mathosian
Venus is the second planet from the sun and the closest to planet earth. She is typically the brightest object in the night sky and shining brightly as a glimmering white light. Venus looks like a rising evening star in the west just after sunset or as a morning star rising in the east just before sunrise.
Like the moon, Venus goes through phases. She appears new when she is between the Earth and Sun and full when she is on the far side of the sun. Because of its dense cloud cover, it is impossible to see the surface of Venus through a telescope. What we know about her atmosphere and surface terrain we have learned from scientific probes by NASA and other scientific organizations.
The cloud cover on Venus is very thick and extend down to about 25 miles. Closer to the planets surface the air is clear. The surface of Venus is rocky with a rolling plane covering about 70 percent of the planet. There are also some highland areas, mountains and galleys.
Venus is extremely hot and inhospitable. It is believed the planet may still have active volcanoes. The average surface temperature is about 870 degrees Fahrenheit. If you land on Venus, be prepared to melt!
The Transit of The Sun
The last time people witnessed the silhouette of Venus sliding across the face of the Sun was 122 years ago. Transits of Venus occur when the sun, Venus and the Earth precisely line up. Past transits occurred in 1639, 1874 and 1882. The next one will occur in 2012. After that it will be 105 years before the next one, December 11, 2117. A transit will occur again after that on December 8, 2125.
The June 8, 2004, six hour transit was visible around the world, except for the western United States, southwestern Canada and the southern tip of South America. Schools and museums around the world set up educational programs, live web casts and tours to good viewing sites. Stargazing parties were established in England, India, Spain, the U.S.A., Brazil and other countries where the event could be seen.
Sky watchers in the eastern U.S. had about two hours after daybreak to see Venus cross the sun. This was the final stages of the transit. To observers Venus appeared as a small circular sphere about 1/32 the size of the sun, moving along the lower face of the sun. It looked like a round black dot on the suns glowing surface. Sunrise on the east coast was 5:43 a.m. and by 7:06 a.m. the transit was complete. The entire transit lasted about six hours. The Venus transit of 2004 has come and gone.
This was one of only two chances to see this rare astronomical event in our lifetime. If you missed this one, make plans for the next one in 2012. It will be here before you know it!
copyright - Mark Mathosian
About the photo: This image was shot through a MeadeETX-90 telescope with special lens filter to protect the eyes from the sun.