May 31, 2012

Two UW public lectures highlight Venus transit across the sun

News and Information

An image from the 2004 transit of Venus across the sun. The striations of lines were caused by cloud cover. UW astronomy professors will discuss Venus in two talks the evening of June 4 in Kane Hall.

Sylvie Beland via NASA

An image from the 2004 transit of Venus across the sun. The striations of lines were caused by cloud cover. UW astronomy professors will discuss Venus in two talks the evening of June 4 in Kane Hall.

On June 5, the planet Venus will pass across the disk of the sun in a rare astronomical event that last happened in 2004 but won’t take place again until the year 2117. It’s a twice-in-every-other-lifetime kind of thing.

The transit begins at 3 p.m. and will be visible until 9 p.m., weather and obstructions permitting.

The evening before, the UW Astrobiology Program and Astronomy department will present free, back-to-back 30-minute public faculty lectures about Venus and the significance of its transits to our ever-developing understanding of the universe.

The talks will begin at 7 p.m. Monday, June 4, in Room 120 of Kane Hall. This event is free, but space is limited. RSVP online for your free ticket.

“Transits of Venus and the Quest for the Scale of the Universe,” by Woody Sullivan. “Determining the distance to a planet, a star, or a galaxy has always been one of the fundamental challenges in astronomy,” Sullivan wrote. “In an attempt to accurately determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and thus the scale of the entire solar system, as well as to nearby stars, astronomers invested great time and effort mounting expeditions to observe previous transits of Venus in the 18th and 19th centuries.” Sullivan will recount this history and give details of the 2012 Venus transit.

“The Venus Environment: Understanding the Earth’s Twisted Sister,” by Victoria Meadows. “Venus is in many ways similar to the Earth in size, density, and distance from the Sun, but its surface environment is one of the most hellish known,” Meadows wrote. “Although Venus may once have been more Earthlike, its subsequent evolution to its present state has been very different and may be common for planets in other planetary systems. This talk will review what we know about Venus’s current environment, and will discuss how the 2012 Venus transit may help us better understand planets orbiting other stars.”

On June 5, the Seattle Astronomical Society will provide informal opportunities for viewing the Venus transit using portable telescopes, weather permitting, at several campus locations. For a map of UW viewing locations, see the Astronomy Department website. Other Puget Sound sites also will also have small telescopes for viewing the transit.