Alaska may have missed out on the prime viewing of the annularsolar eclipse on May 20 -- though it definitely caught some of it -- but there's no better place to be than the Last Frontier to seethe June 5 transit of Venus, an astronomical event that only rollsaround twice every century or so. The transit of Venus is a 7-hour event in which Venus -- one ofonly two planets between the Earth and its heavenly light -- treksits way across the surface of the sun. The transits come in groupsof two, set eight years apart, but then don't occur for more thananother another century. The last one occurred in 2004, making the June 5 event the last oneuntil 2117. |
Before 2004, the last one was in 1882. So unless modern medicine makes some immense strides soon, thisyear's event will be the only chance many living Earthlings have tosee it. But here's the catch: Just like the recent solar eclipse, the bestviewing will be in limited geographic regions. The Los Angeles Times reports that the transit " will be visible in its entirety only from the western Pacific,eastern Asia, eastern Australia and at high northern latitudes." High northern latitudes, you say? Sounds like Alaska, no? Indeed, the 49th state will be among the prime viewing locations --so much so, that a group of astronomers are planning to make thetrip to Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city, in order tofacilitate viewing.
That's according to Space.com , where it says the group of researchers from NASA's Solar DynamicsObservatory will make the trip in concert with a solar physicsmeeting in Anchorage. Only Alaska and Hawaii will see the entire transit in U.S., saidone researcher. Which is a change from the events of the 2004eclipse, when the western U.S. missed the entire show, according to NASA . That's not the transit's only Alaska connection, either.
Accordingto MSNBC , British explorer James Cook -- for whom Alaska's Cook Inlet isnamed, and who mapped a good portion of the Alaska coastline duringa quest to discover the fabled Northwest Passage -- assisted in ascientific expedition during the 1769 transit of Venus. The goal was to answer one of astronomy's most important questions-- the distance from Earth to the sun. By precisely timing thetransit's length from many different points around the globe, thereasoning went, scientists could calculate the Earth-sun distanceusing the principles of parallax. With this information in hand,the scale of the entire solar system would follow.
Famed British explorer Capt. James Cook took part in the 1769expedition, sailing to Tahiti and watching the transit from a placenow known as Point Venus. If you don't have the cash to take a trip to Alaska and aren't inthe path of the transit, don't fret: NASA will broadcast the wholeevent on its NASA TV website . Fair warning: You won't be able to look directly at the sun to viewthe transit, but will need to filter it through some sort ofmedium.
Tips for viewing solar eclipses apply. In Anchorage, the transit will begin at about 2 p.m. on June 5,ending around 9 p.m. Curious what times it will be visible in yourarea? Check out this handy site . Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com.
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