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Venus Transit: There's a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today


Did you invest in eclipse glasses to watch the May 20 annular/partial solar eclipse? If so, you are set for the Venus transit on June 5.

Venus passing in front of the sun as seen from Earth is a very rare occurrence and will not happen again until December 2117. The event begins when the spherical shape of the Goddess of Love edges in front of the sun, blocking out a bit of its rays. Through eclipse glasses, you will see a small black dot passing in front of the giant orange orb of the sun. If you don't have eclipse glasses, you can visit a local observatory, buy a solar filter for your telescope, or if it's cloudy you can watch one of the many web sites with a live feed of the event. (One to try is the Keck Observatory.)

In the United States, the transit occurs on June 5, while the Eastern Hemisphere will see the event on June 6. In the U.S., the event occurs near sunset, while in most of Europe, Africa, and western Asia, the event will be in progress at sunrise. Venus’s procession across the sun is slow, taking 6 hours and 40 minutes to traverse the northern half of the sun.

First contact (when Venus appears to touch the limb of the sun, also called ingress) occurs at 22:09:29 UT, which translates to 5:09 p.m. Central Time. Greatest contact will be at 1:29:28 UT, or 8:29 p.m. Central Time, which is about the time of sunset. For observers farther west, in San Francisco for example, the transit begins around 3:09 p.m. Pacific Time, with greatest contact right around 6:30 p.m., and the sun setting at 8:30 before the event completes at about 9:45 p.m.

One word of warning: If you do not have proper equipment to view this event, missing it is the better option. And if you have eclipse glasses, do not use them with binoculars or a telescope. It's better not to see the transit at all than to have it be the last thing you ever see.

A partial lunar eclipse is another June event visible from the United States. On June 4 before dawn, a small portion of the moon will be in Earth's shadow. The event is better seen across the Pacific in Australia and New Zealand, where the entire event can be witnessed.

June 4 is also the date of the full moon. June's full moon is sometimes called the Strawberry Moon. Full moon is not a great time to stargaze because the bright lunar light washes out the sky. New moon, on June 19, is the more ideal observing time. Mercury becomes visible in the evening sky after sunset during the month of June. Mercury will be easy to spot on June 21 when it is close to the crescent moon. Mars and Saturn are also evening planets, with the moon pulling near Mars on June 25 and Saturn on June 27. Both reddish Mars with its polar cap and Saturn with its rings look great through a telescope.

June's annual meteor shower, the Lyrids, peaks over the weekend of June 15 and 16, with up to 9 meteors an hour visible. Lyrid meteors appear to emanate from their namesake, the constellation Lyra, which will be high in the east-northeast after sunset. The solstice this year is on June 20 at 7:08 p.m. EDT. Watch the sun as it sets as far north as it will for the year. It seems to stand still up in the north until it slowly begins returning.

Image: Howard University Astronomical Observatory

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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