Transit of Venus, 2012
Venus Transit at the Nature Research Center
On June 5, 2012, over 1300 people came to the Nature Research Center to observe this century’s last transit of Venus — when the planet Venus passes across the Sun’s surface as observed from certain places on Earth. At the top of the DENR (Department of Environment & Natural Resources) parking deck, a range of instruments were available for safe viewing of the Sun, including solar glasses equipped with special filters, a 90-mm solar telescope with a hydrogen-alpha (H-alpha) filter that shows the Sun as a bright orange orb with occasional solar flares, and various solar telescopes with white light filters.
This special solar telescope was provided for this celestial event by Appalachian State University, a partner institution with the Nature Research Center, and academic affiliate to the Astronomy Lab Director, Dr. Rachel L. Smith. The telescope is now permanently housed in the Astronomy Lab for regular solar viewing. Dr. Smith was also accompanied by fellow DENR employees Dr. John Amoroso and Dr. Tony Duque, who respectively provided an optical telescope (with solar filters) for public viewing, and beautiful images of the transit from the event (see below).
Museum visitors patiently waited in unexpectedly long lines to see Venus as a small black circle crossing the solar surface. Visitors experiencing this last transit of Venus were part of the historical series of this celestial event (only 7 transits of Venus have been observed since the year 1639), with the next transit to occur in the year 2117.
Transits of Venus have featured prominently in the history of astronomy: Johannes Kepler was the first astronomer to predict a transit of Venus, which occurred in 1631 but was not observed in Europe. The first transit was recorded eight years later, in 1639, by the English astronomer, Jeremiah Horrocks, who refined Kepler’s predictions to note that transits of Venus would occur in pairs 8 years apart. Edmund Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) was the first to suggest that transits of Venus could be used to determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun. The French astronomer, Guillaume Le Gentil, spent eight years of his life in pursuit of observing the 1761/1769 transits, only to return unfulfilled from his voyage, to find he was declared dead, his estate plundered, and his wife married to another.
It seemed that NRC Venus transit observers had a more rewarding experience.