The Transit of Venus is one of the rarest and famous events in astronomy. You won't see another in your lifetime and it's doubtful that your kids would either, as the next event won't happen until 2117.
What is the Transit of Venus?
It occurs when the planet Venus moves between the Sun and Earth. It looks like a small black disc crossing the Sun.
How often does a Transit Occur? They occur twice eight years apart and then not for over a century. There have only been six transits of Venus in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and the most recent one in 2004, since the event was first recognized.
Waiting for the Transit of Venus at Eden, NSW in 1874 Image courtesy of the Sydney Observatory website)
When will the next Transit of Venus take place? On the 6th day of the 6th month this year, Venus' crossing of the Sun will take about 6 ½ hrs.
Can we see the Transit of Venus in Australia? Australia will be one of the best places on Earth to watch the transit. Eastern and Central Australia will see the entire crossing. If you live in Western Australia, it will have started before sunrise.
Transits of Venus are of significance to Australians since James Cook's voyage to Tahiti, to observe the 1769 transit of Venus, led to the European settlement of the continent.
Sydney to Lord Howe Island, in the wake of James Cook (Image courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum website)
HMB Endeavour have a special voyage scheduled which will follow in James Cook's wake to observe the Transit of Venus.
How can I watch the Transit?
You cannot look at the sun directly through a telescope or binoculars as serious eye damage may result. However you can modify them for the viewing. Using a telescope or binos you can project the image onto white card (held about 20cm behind the eyepiece), where the transit should easily be seen.
Take a look at the Australia Astronomy factsheet, under the section "How to watch the transit safely". It also gives times of the transit for major Australian cities.
Check with the observatory nearest you for any special events scheduled around the transit. Click here for a list from the Astronomical Society of Australia.
The next pair of transits will occur in December 2117 and December 2125 - a long wait if you miss the one in 2012. So, mark 6 June 2012 on your calendar and see something which really is out of this world.