On Wednesday 6 June 2012 Venus will pass in front of the Sun’s disk — a rare astronomical event with rich historical associations for New Zealand.
No one alive today has seen a transit of Venus from New Zealand.
The transit in June 2004 was visible from the other side of the Earth. Before that the previous transit was in December 1882, and there were none in the 20th century. The next transit of Venus will occur in 105 years time, on 11 December 2117.
The transit can be viewed by webcast set up by the Horowhenua Astronomical Society. You can access the webcast directly here or view it via Ustream on this page.
Viewing from New Zealand
Venus will begin to cross the edge of the sun at about 10.15 am on June 6 and take 18 minutes to move completely onto the solar disc.
The transit mid-point will be at 1:30 pm, and a clear horizon will be needed to see the end of the transit just before sunset.
Venus will start to exit the solar disc at 4:25pm and will quit it completely by 4:43 pm. The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand provides accurate times here.
NB: The sun will cause eye damage if people look at directly at it without proper protection such as a filter that cuts both visible light and harmful invisible ultraviolet and infrared rays. See below for links on eye safety.
The Science Media Centre approached leading astronomers for their thoughts on the significance of the transit:
Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, James Cook University comments:
“For me the 2012 transit will be memorable not only because it will mark two transits I will have viewed in my lifetime (I was in England for the 2004 transit), but also because it will bring back fond memories of the ways in which the earlier transits played a crucial role in helping solve that fundamental question in international astronomy: What was the precise distance from the Earth to the Sun? These earlier transits introduce us to some remarkable astronomers; innovative scientific instruments; incredible human dramas involving long ocean voyages with no guarantee whatsoever that the weather would co-operate on the vital day and provide excellent views of the transit; Cook’s 1769 transit and its intimate association with New Zealand and Australia (indeed, my university is named after him); and the major role that both of these antipodean nations played during the 1874 and 1882 transits. So although the 2012 transit will have no scientific importance for me personally, it will serve as a window to past transits and the fabulous interplay between science and society.”
William Tobin, former senior lecturer, Department of Physics & Astronomy, at University of Canterbury, comments:
“This year’s transit is important to us as New Zealanders because it’s a near re-run of Cook’s transit, which is a founding event in the history of the European occupation of our islands.
“It’s also a reminder of the hundreds of expeditions that sailed, tramped and sledged across the world in heroic efforts to observe the 18th- and 19th-century transits, including six to our country for the 1874 and 1882 transits.
“Looking up at Venus as it crawls across the Sun will be a palpable example of celestial mechanics in action, and also an illustration of the relative sizes of the Sun and inner planets.
“Wednesday’s transit is being observed by professional astronomers for the clues it may give as to the future observability of the atmospheres of exoplanets—that is, planets orbiting stars outside the solar system”.
Alan Gilmore, Superintendent, University of Canterbury’s Mt John University Observatory at Lake Tekapo, comments:
“A transit of Venus is a very rare astronomical event. It is easily seen by anyone – with suitable eye protection! – so can be widely appreciated by the public. An eclipse of the sun or moon similarly attracts attention though there is no scientific value in watching one.
“For New Zealand there is the historical association of Venus transits with Captain Cook and European discovery and mapping of our country. Australia shares some of this historical interest as well.
“The significance of the event is in the astronomical history. It was an important phenomenon in gauging the scale of the solar system in Cook’s time. But even by the 1874-82 transits there was scepticism as to the scientific value of this method. More consistent results were being obtained from other measures of planetary parallax.”
Public Events – JUNE 6
The Northland Astronomical Society will be setting up telescopes for the public to view the Transit of Venus down at the Whangarei town basin from 10:30am to 4:00pm.
Stardome ‘s new solar telescope will provide a live feed on the Stardome website, and for a public open day from 10am till 5pm, which will have free viewing through courtyard telescopes, which have all been fitted with new solar filters. Short planetarium shows explaining the transit.
Transit of Venus Forum: Over 30 talented New Zealanders will speak at the Transit of Venus Forum (8.30an to 2pm), with a webcast and online game to allow all New Zealanders to follow the forum and have their say, filming of a documentary at the forum, and a parallel series of panel discussions and interviews by Radio New Zealand.
Pounamu is an on-line, idea-generating game set in 2022 to involve New Zealanders from all walks of life in looking ahead to a world of fewer resources and more demands. Participants will pool their collective knowledge and creativity to explore possibilities, spot unexpected challenges and reveal new paths forward by posting micro-messsages of 140 characters.
Wellington Astronomical Society observing the Transit of Venus from near the Pyramid in Civic Square (Weather permitting) from about 10:15 am to about 2:30 pm. The solar image will be projected onto a sun funnel screen attached to a small telescope for safe viewing.
Victoria University – Transit of Venus Poetry Exchange brings together three German and three New Zealand poets to witness the Transit of Venus. http://www.goethe.de/ins/nz/wel/kue/lit/en9280874v.htm
Carter Observatory will be offering viewing of the transit (as weather permits), with viewing through the Cooke Telescope with solar filter. Two dobsonian telescopes with solar filters will be available for viewing outside, and a solar telescope will be set up in the Ruth Crisp telescope dome with a live feed a screen.
A special solar telescope will be the focal point at Stonehenge Aotearoa (Carterton), with live images of the event can be projected onto a large screen. http://www.voxy.co.nz/lifestyle/transit-venus-be-celebrated-stonehenge-aotearoa/5/124831
The University of Canterbury’s C2 lecture theatre will have a live feed from the optical telescope at the University’s Mt. John Observatory in Tekapo, adapted to watch the transit safely. Solar telescopes with astronomers in attendance and SAFE viewing will also be taking place outside the Rutherford Building (North Western side), weather permitting.
Mt COOK / AORAKI
‘Big Sky Stargazing’ Mt Cook (Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre) will provide solar filters for viewing http://www.hillarycentre.co.nz
Mt John Observatory will webcast the event on the Canterbury University website.
The observatory will be open to the public for viewing the transit. http://earthandskynz.com/earthandsky/event/Transit_of_Venus_2012_poster.pdf
South Canterbury Astronomers Group will be running public observing sessions using solar telescopes, with free sessions will start on the Piazza and outside the Timaru Public Library .
Dunedin Astronomical Society is making its Beverly-Begg Observatory site (in Robin Hood Park) available for members of the public to watch the event, using some of the society’s telescopes, equipped with filters for safe viewing.
Other useful links:
Mt. John Observatory – http://www.phys.canterbury.ac.nz/
NASA will transmit images from Mauna Kea Observatories Complex, at 4267m in Hawaii, starting at 9.45am (NZ time)
Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/#!/tov2012
New technologies, such as the VenusTransit phone app, will allow individuals to send their observations of the 2012 transit of Venus to a global experiment to measure the size of the solar system. The free phone app was developed by Norbert Schmidt of DDQ in the Netherlands. For more information, contact Steven van Roode: firstname.lastname@example.org.