World-renowned UND astronomy team to Webcast rare transit of Venus across the sun; event won’t be seen again for a century

A world-renowned cosmic observation team from the University of North Dakota is at it again with the second of a one-two celestial punch.

Just two weeks after Webcasting a rare annular solar eclipse, the team—well known for its popular Webcasts of important solar system events—is in Alaska to capture the rare transit of Venus across the Sun. That happens Tuesday, June 5, starting at 4:45 p.m., Central Daylight Saving Time. The team comprises Tim Young, UND Physics and Astrophysics, and Ron Marsh, UND Computer Science.

To watch this once-in-a-lifetime event, see sems.UND.edu for full coverage of all four contacts; the UND team will have several telescopes set up with H-alpha, or special sun viewing, filters.

The UND team’s Webcast starts at 4:45 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 5. The actual transit begins at 5:06 p.m., and ends at 11:50 p.m. CDT.

REMINDER
The UND Observatory will also host a special public viewing of the June 5 transit of Venus.

The public viewing will take place at a “Venus Transit” open house 3-7 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, at the UND Observatory. The facility will provide solar telescopes, glasses designed for solar viewing, activities for children and tours of the observatory.

“Venus is going to transit—or pass directly in front of—the sun, and this will be the last time in our lifetimes that we’ll get this opportunity,” said Paul Hardersen, associate professor in the UND Department of Space Science, part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. Hardersen also manages the UND Observatory. The last transit of Venus was in 2004; the next pair of transits of Venus visible from Earth will be in 2115 and 2117.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Venus transit Web site, since the apparent diameter of Venus is nearly 1 arc-minute, you can see the transit without optical magnification as long as you’re absolutely sure to use special filters designed to view the Sun directly.

Venus appears to be only 1/32 of the Sun’s apparent diameter so a pair of binoculars or a small telescope at modest power will offer a much more satisfying view. All binoculars and telescopes also must be equipped with the filters designed specifically for safe solar viewing  (as noted above, the UND Observatory will have on hand suitable solar viewing filters and optical instruments).

Directions to the UND Observatory
From Grand Forks, take Highway 2 west, turn left (south) just past Mile Marker 346, turn right (west) at the T?intersection, drive ½ mile west and take the first left (south), and then ½ mile. The observatory is on the left (east side) of the road.

Viewing history
“The June 5 transit of Venus is an anniversary of sorts for our Sun Earth Moon System (SEMS) team,” said UND astrophysicist Tim Young, a longtime SEMS observer and popular public speaker. “The Venus transit of 2004 started our quest of filming and making astronomical events available to everyone on the Internet. It is a tale of two temperatures: in 2004 we ventured to New Deli, India, with $10,000 worth of solar filters and telescopes to record the Venus transit. The temperature was an unimaginable 115 fahrenheit.”

Fast-forward eight years: the team, comprising Young and Marsh, professor and chair, UND Computer Science, is now in Anchorage, Alaska, where temperatures this week are in the 50’s.

“We’re fighting cold weather to produce a live Webcast of the June 5 transit of Venus,” Young said.

The UND team selects locations to stage its observation and Webcasts with the following criteria in mind: viewing ability, local Internet connection, economical, and weather.

UND’s special connections
Other groups are doing webcasts, too.

“But what makes ours special is that we have a live chat room where viewers login into, and we interact with the local people,” Young said. “It is hard to compete with NASA and the large museums that are broadcasting the transit—but with our chat rooms, we offer something unique.”

The team plans to answer questions live about the transit as Venus transits, or crosses, the disk of the sun. The team’s efforts are extremely interactive through use of its chat room, audio question/answer system, podcasts, and blogs—among the reasons it’s become so well known worldwide on the Internet.

“We also will be helping other researchers to collect data on the timing and location of the transit,” Young said. “This will increase our knowledge of planetary orbits and the potential skill of others to calculate the disk of the sun. We also plan to make high-definition movies of the transit that can later aid in future studies that we can’t even begin to understand.”

Like last month’s annular eclipse, a Venus transit visible from Earth won’t happen again for more than 100 years.

To watch this once-in-a-lifetime event, see sems.UND.edu for full coverage of all four contacts starting at 1:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The will have several telescopes set up with an H-alpha, or special sun viewing, filter.

Useful links
UND Observatory
http://observatory.space.edu/

UND Webcast team
sems.UND.edu

UND Space Studies
http://space.edu/

UND Aerospace
http://www.aero.UND.edu/

NASA transit of Venus site incl. viewing map
http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/transit12.html

Transit of Venus.org
http://www.transitofvenus.org/

Contact
Juan Miguel Pedraza, writer/editor
UND Office of University Relations
701-777-6571 office 701-740-1321 cell
juan.pedraza@und.edu

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