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Passing in the day: Venus crosses the sun's path

Jennifer Sprouse • Jun 5, 2012 at 10:24 PM

Telescopes of every shape, size, model and make were mounted toward the sun Tuesday evening to see the planet Venus travel between the sun and Earth for the last time until 2117.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at East Tennessee State University and Bays Mountain Astronomy Club gathered at the intramural fields next to the Wayne G. Basler Center for Physical Activity. Crowds waited for a chance to see the planet.

The Venus transit, an almost 7 hour journey, could be seen in the area at approximately 6:22 p.m. and was described in a news release as appearing to be a small, black dot shadowing against the sun. The viewing was scheduled to end by 8:30 p.m., around the time when the sun would no longer be visible from ETSU’s campus.

Greg Love, professor of Physics and Astronomy with the Physics Department at ETSU and member of the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club, said the last time Venus was visible was back in 2004. He said even though there will be a quite the wait to see the planet in following years, Venus won’t be too far away.

“Although we’re going to have Venus come between us and the sun a number of times, it won’t necessarily be aligned so that we see it within the disk of the sun. It might be above or below,” Love said.

He said Tuesday’s viewing was once considered a learning experience to try to figure out how far the Earth is from the sun, as well as a chance to witness a rare astronomical phenomena that confirms a theory, vastly unpopular in earlier societies, that the Earth revolves around the sun.

“You’ve got to remember about 600 years or so ago you probably could’ve gotten tossed into the clinker (for believing that theory),” Love said. “Galileo was imprisoned in his house for the rest of his life because he said that the Earth went around the sun versus the other direction.”

Nathaniel Wentzel, an honorary member of the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club and physics teacher at Milligan College, talked about the reflecting and refracting telescopes available for Venus viewing.

“We have a whole bunch of telescopes out here and they’ve all got good solar filters, a few different types,” Wentzel said. “It’s not safe to look at it (Venus) with your eyes just directly.”

Wentzel said people wishing to view the Venus transit can also use a No. 14 welder’s glass, as well as a telescope with specialized solar filters that will protect a person’s vision.

He said a lot of the telescopes were provided Tuesday by the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club, as well as from its members, just for the event.

Alisha Jones, an upcoming senior at Tusculum College, said seeing Venus was a one-time deal and she’s glad she had the opportunity to view it.

“It looked like a big, bright sun with like dots,” Jones said. “Given the Venus transit (times) that they gave us, you could tell that it was at spot No. 2.”

If you drew a circle and then a line through the upper portion of a circle, the black dot Jones saw, spot No. 2, would be on the far left of the line, almost touching the edge of the circle.

While she and her two friends had to wait a short time in line to see Venus, she said it was worth it.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “That’s an experience that not many people will get to do. Obviously, you only get it once in your lifetime, maybe once in two lifetimes, so it wows you.”

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