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Eyes directed skyward as Venus travels across sun

June 6, 2012
By OSKAR GARCIA , The Associated Press

HONOLULU - None of us will likely see Venus pass, like a moving beauty spot, across the face of the sun again.

From the U.S. to South Korea, people around the world turned their attention to the daytime sky on Tuesday and early today in Asia to make sure they caught the rare sight of the transit of Venus. The next one won't be for another 105 years.

"If you can see the mole on Cindy Crawford's face, you can see Venus," Van Webster, a member of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, told anyone who stopped by his telescope for a peek on Mount Hollywood.

Article Photos

People in an auditorium at the National University in Mexico City watch a live webcast from the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island during the transit of Venus across the sun on Tuesday.
AP?photo

For astronomers, the transit wasn't just a rare planetary spectacle. It was also one of those events they hoped would spark curiosity about the universe and our place in it.

Sul Ah Chim, a researcher at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute in South Korea, said he hoped people see life from a larger perspective, and "not get caught up in their small, everyday problems."

"When you think about it from the context of the universe, 105 years is a very short period of time and the Earth is only a small, pale blue spot," he said.

The transit was happening during a 6-hour, 40-minute span that began just after 6 p.m. in the eastern United States and noon in Hawaii. What observers could see and for how long depended on their region's exposure to the sun during that exact window of time, and the weather.

Those in most areas of North and Central America saw the start of the transit until sunset, while those in western Asia, the eastern half of Africa and most of Europe could catch the transit's end once the sun came up.

Hawaii, Alaska, eastern Australia and eastern Asia including Japan, North and South Korea and eastern China got the whole show since the entire transit happened during daylight in those regions.

While astronomers used the latest technology to document the transit, American astronaut Don Pettit aboard the International Space Station was planning to take photos of the event and post them online.

Online streams with footage from telescopes around the world proved popular for NASA and other observatories. A NASA stream midway through the transit had nearly 2 million total views and was getting roughly 90,000 viewers at any given moment.

Meanwhile, terrestrial star-gazers were warned to look at the celestial event only with a properly filtered telescope or cardboard eclipse glasses. If the sun is viewed directly, permanent eye damage could result.

In Los Angeles, throngs jammed Mount Hollywood, where the Griffith Observatory rolled out the red carpet for Venus. The last time the city witnessed a Venus transit was 130 years ago, in 1882. A 2004 transit was not visible from the western U.S.

Telescopes with special filters were set up next to the lawn and people took turns peering at the sun before and during the transit. Astronomers and volunteers lectured about the rarity of a Venus pass to anyone who would listen.

Minutes before Venus first touched the outer edge of the sun, Sousa's "Transit Of Venus March" blared. The crowd turned their attention skyward.

Bo Tan, a 32-year-old software engineer took a half day off from work and went with his co-workers to the observatory. He admitted he wasn't an astronomy buff but could not miss this opportunity.

He pointed his eclipse glasses at the sun and steadied his camera behind it to snap pictures.

"It makes you feel like a small speck in the universe," he said.

In Mexico, at least 100 people lined up two hours early to view the event through telescopes or one of the 150 special viewing glasses on hand, officials said. Observation points were also set up at a dozen locations.

Venus, which is extremely hot, is one of Earth's two neighbors and is so close in size to our planet that scientists at times call them near-twins. During the transit, it appeared as a small dot.

It was the seventh transit visible since German astronomer Johannes Kepler first predicted the phenomenon in the 17th century. Because of the shape and speed of Venus' orbit around the sun and its relationship to Earth's annual trip, transits occur in pairs separated by more than a century.

It's nowhere near as dramatic and awe-inspiring as a total solar eclipse, which sweeps a shadow across the Earth, but there will be six more of those this decade.

In Hawaii, hundreds of tourists and locals passed through an area of Waikiki Beach where the University of Hawaii set up eight telescopes and two large screens showing webcasts of the transit as seen from telescopes at volcanoes on other Hawaiian islands.

But minutes after Venus crossed into the sun's path, clouds rolled overhead and blocked the direct view.

"It's always the challenge of being in Hawaii - are you going to be able to see through the clouds," said Greg Mansker, 49, of Pearl City, as he stood in line at a telescope.

The intermittent clouds didn't stop people from looking up through filters, but it did drive some to crowd the screens instead.

Jenny Kim, 39, of Honolulu, said she told her 11-year-old son that the planet's crossing would be the only time he'd get to see the transit in person.

"I don't know what the future will be, so I think this will be good for him," Kim said as she snapped photos of the webcast with her smartphone.

Astronomers also hosted viewings at Pearl Harbor and Ko Olina. On Maui, 20 couples renewed their vows during a ceremony tied to the transit at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort &?Spa, a spokeswoman said.

 
 
 

 

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