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Clouds are on the horizon for Tuesday's transit of Venus

Jun 05 2012
The planet Venus is seen as a black dot as it transits across the sun over Hong Kong in this file photo taken June 8, 2004. One of the rarest astronomical events will occur on Tuesday and Wednesday when Venus passes directly between the sun and Earth, a transit that won't occur again until 2117. 

The planet Venus is seen as a black dot as it transits across the sun over Hong Kong in this file photo taken June 8, 2004. One of the rarest astronomical events will occur on Tuesday and Wednesday when Venus passes directly between the sun and Earth, a transit that won't occur again until 2117.

Photograph by: Bobby Yip, Reuters , File June 4, 2004

Hepped-up astronomers fear cloudy weather Tuesday might overshadow their last chance to watch Venus pass across the face of the sun.

The rare celestial event has only occurred seven times since the invention of the telescope and will not happen again until 2117.

Known as a transit of Venus, the planet will appear as a small black dot as it passes between the sun and Earth. Weather permitting, it will be visible with proper protective glasses and telescopes with solar filters.

Astronomers in much of the world will be watching. In Greater Victoria, they have been preparing a viewing of the historic event for weeks, with several public stations planned. Poor weather forecasts, however, indicate clouds could dominate the skies.

“It’s looking awful,” said Lauri Roche, president of the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. “Whatever happens, we’ll still be at the locations, but it certainly doesn’t look very good.”

The public can gain access to proper eye protection when visiting the viewing sites set up by several astronomy groups. The society will have stations at the Royal B.C. Museum, Mount Tolmie, Cattle Point and outside Metchosin’s municipal hall.

The University of Victoria’s astronomy department will also have a viewing station at the observing terrace on the fifth floor of the Bob Wright Centre on campus.

Centre of the Universe on West Saanich Road will be open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. for viewing the transit as well. It is to begin at 3:05 p.m. and will still be underway when the sun sets at 9:12 p.m.

The public is warned to avoid looking at the sun without proper protective eyewear. Exposure could cause permanent damage to the eye, said University of Victoria astronomy instructor Russ Robb. Ordinary sunglasses do not offer sufficient protection.

But there may not be much to worry about in that respect, with grey clouds blocking the view.

Environment Canada forecaster Greg Pearce estimated a 50 per cent chance that skies will break up enough in the capital region to catch a glimpse of the transit.

There is a glimmer of hope that the clouds will break in the evening, around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., affording periodic opportunities to see the transit before the sun sets.

“It all depends on where the clouds are when it’s happening,” Pearce said. “The clearing will be coming in from the west, so the western part of the sky is going to be clear first. Maybe they’ll get lucky.”

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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