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Venus Transit Makes History; NASA Makes It Public

NASA Transit of Venus

On June 5-6, most parts of the world were able to view the transit of Venus, a rare event in which Venus is visible in silhouette against the sun for several hours. This transit occurs in pairs a few years apart, and then does not occur again for more than 100 years. This year’s transit was the second in the pair and the last chance that almost everyone living today will ever have to see it. NASA and its research centers made the most of this rare opportunity with myriad events, activities, and information.

On June 5, NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) hosted a talk at the Great Lakes Science Center, featuring Dr. Steven Williams, Education and Public Outreach Lead in NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, and Dr. Rodger Dyson, a GRC scientist who is working to simulate Venus’s atmospheric conditions. Dr. Williams and GRC researchers shared their knowledge with sky-watchers at a public viewing event at Edgewater State Park in Cleveland, Ohio. On June 5, at Marshall Space Flight Center, scientists hosted a live webchat about the transit. A member of the Solar System Ambassador program, sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, visited a local school to encourage students’ interest.

NASA partnered with other space agencies to provide live webcasting of the transit from 10 locations worldwide, as well as the International Space Station. The primary webcast was hosted in Maua Kea, Hawaii, as a part of NASA EDGE, a video podcast developed by Langley Research Center. Other locations included Fairbanks, Alaska; Mount Wilson Observatory, Calif.; Alice Springs, Australia; and the Indian Astronomical Observatory, India. Teams of scientists and educators were stationed at the Hawaii and Alaska locations—considered some of the best viewing sites—to share the event with students and teachers. Don Pettit, a NASA astronaut currently stationed on the International Space Station, became the first person to view and photograph the transit from space. His photos were shared online almost in real-time.

The transit supplied the theme for this year’s Sun-Earth Day, which is a yearly series of events and programs hosted by NASA to encourage learning and interest in astronomy. The Sun-Earth Day team provided teaching guides for elementary, middle and high school teachers, and partnered with NASA EDGE to produce video and webcast programming to share with formal and informal education audiences worldwide. In addition to the webcasts, educational programs included a NASA/CONNECT TV program about how the transit of Venus set the scale of the solar system, a student lab experiment on calculating the astronomical unit with transit observations, online archives of transit images taken by amateur and professional telescopes across the globe, and Library of Congress materials and other historical documents from past transits.

To go along with Sun-Earth Day, NASA also held a Venus Transit Observing Challenge in conjunction with the Astronomical League. Amateur astronomers who successfully viewed the transit through a properly filtered telescope received a certificate of participation from NASA’s website. For a more challenging option, NASA offered a second certificate to people who photographed the transit and posted the image on the challenge’s Flickr site, noted the time of observation, and calculated the distance in astronomical units.

NASA websites were also a major source of information about the transit for amateur astronomers and casual sky-watchers alike, including information on the history of the Venus Transit, an interactive worldwide map of events related to the transit, a diagram of where and when the transit would be visible, and guidelines for safe viewing.

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