If you're out in the parks this week, check to see if the park you're in is offering a viewing of the "Venus Transit" that will occur Tuesday afternoon. National Park System units from Arches to Voyageurs national parks will be offering special viewing of the celestial event.
A transit of Venus occurs when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth. Observers in the Northern Hemisphere will see Venus appear to move from left to right across the upper half of the Sun at a slight downward angle.
According to experts at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, "Transits of Venus across the disk of the Sun are among the rarest of planetary alignments." They're so rare, in fact, that only seven such events have occurred since the invention of the telescope (1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and 2004.)
When Venus passes between Earth and the Sun during this Tuesday afternoon, it will appear as a black disk crossing the sun's face. The next transit won't occur until 2117.
Here's a list of some parks that will be offering programs specific to the Venus transit:
At Panorama Point and Sand Dune Arch parking lots, solar viewing devices will be available for visitors to share. Solar scopes will project the event onto a screen, and park rangers will give short presentations about the orbital mechanics behind this rare heavenly display. Stop by between 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and catch a glimpse of this once in a lifetime experience.
An open house will be offered to visitors to come gaze at the transit through solar telescopes.
The public is invited to several free activities that are planned for the Transit of Venus on Tuesday.
Starting at about 2 p.m. in the Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center, park rangers will provide activities for children that focus on the solar system. At 3:30 p.m. in the Visitor Center theater, Beverly Marrs, Carlsbad High School astronomy teacher, will present a slide program about the historical and scientific importance of the Transit. Then, from 4 p.m. to sunset, park rangers and Ms. Marrs will be on hand at a modified telescope so that visitors may see Venus as a dot progressing along its path between Earth and Sun. Remember safe viewing is a must because staring at the sun without protection can do permanent damage to the eyes.
Come on by the visitor center during the afternoon and early evening hours to peek through the solar telescope at the transit of Venus. A park ranger will be available to answer your questions about this unique and rare event.
Grand Teton, in partnership with the Jackson Hole Astronomy Club, will host a Venus transit viewing event on Tuesday from 4 p.m. until sunset. Join professional astronomer and Park Ranger Naturalist Robert Hoyle at the Willow Flats Overlook north of Jackson Lake Junction for this once in a lifetime event.
Several telescopes equipped with special solar filters will be available to safely watch this event. Views will also have the chance to see some of the numerous sunspot groups currently visible on the Sun's surface. Visitors are cautioned that the Sun can only be observed safely through special filters. Sunglasses and photographic filters do not provide adequate protection and their use can lead to permanent eye damage.
Reservations are not required for this event. For more information, please contact the Colter Bay Visitor Center at 307-739-3594.
Join Great Basin's Dark Rangers in viewing this rare transit at the Great Basin Visitor Center in Baker, Nevada, starting at 2:30 p.m. (PDT). They will have telescopes available for public viewing. Participants can learn how astronomers used earlier Venus Transits to calculate the size of the solar system, and try it out for themselves.
An astronomy program will be offered beginning at 6 p.m. at Big Meadows Lodge (mile 51.3 on Skyline Drive) and running until 8 p.m.
Richard Drumm, president of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society, will share insights and provide access to equipment including a (40mm) Hydrogen-alpha refractor "PST" and an 8" Astrograph with a glass solar filter. This is a free program, and no reservations are needed. Park entry fee is required. For real time weather and event updates, call Big Meadows Lodge at 540-999-2221.
A "Dark" Ranger will lead a viewing program from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Those interested in viewing this once in a lifetime event can come for the entire program or stop by anytime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The program will begin at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center at 5:00 p.m. Signs guiding visitors to the viewing area will be posted at the visitor center.
This program is weather dependent. To find out if the program is being held, call the Rainy Lake Visitor Center at 218-286-5258 before 5:00 p.m.
Other parks are expected to schedule similar activities. The National Park Service has created a web page for the event, which notes, "In the hours before sunset, every park in the contiguous United States, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands will be able to view most of the transit in the few hours before sunset."
Best views will be in "parks located in the Pacific such as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa," where observers will be able to see the entire event. (On the U. S. mainland, sunset will occur before the transit has finished.)
"For serious photographers, the Pacific parks offer an amazing setting to photograph the entire sequence of Venus racing across the face of the Sun."