Columbus State Scientists Head to Australia, Mongolia to Capture Transit of Venus
COLUMBUS, Ga. — Partnering with NASA, researchers from Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center will travel to Mongolia and Australia next week to get the best possible images of Venus passing between the Earth and the sun, a celestial event that won’t occur again for another 105 years.
Space science center staff will be teaching and watching the skies at a middle school near Alice Springs in Australia, working from a tent city in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, and also stationed in Utah and at home in Columbus to photograph, video and webcast Venus as it moves across the face of the sun in an event that astronomers call a transit. The 2012 Transit of Venus will last nearly seven hours from June 5-6, providing extraordinary viewing opportunities for observers around the world, said Shawn Cruzen, executive director of the center and a Columbus State University astronomy professor.
“For astronomy fans, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Cruzen said. “Unfortunately audiences in the continental United States will only be able to see a portion of the transit as the sun sets in the west. An additional limitation in viewing the sun is the danger posed to the naked eye. Special equipment and techniques are required to create a safe observing environment.”
In an effort to make this event more accessible to the public, Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center has partnered with NASA and the International Space School Education Trust to provide a multi-continent webcast of the 2012 Transit of Venus. The space science center is believed to be the only university-affiliated institution partnering with NASA to provide images from remote locations for its webcast.
Audiences throughout the world will have an opportunity to experience the event safely via the Internet and NASA TV. Using private funds, Coca-Cola Space Science Center teams are traveling to Mongolia and to a school in the Australian outback near Alice Springs to be in optimal observation sites to acquire images and video of the entire transit.
The team going to Australia leaves Sunday and are not only going to record the transit but will be part of an extensive outreach effort, teaching and lecturing about the transit and other related astronomy topics to hundreds of local schoolchildren. They are also scheduled to be interviewed by a national television station.
The team going to Mongolia leaves June 2. They will spend about 18 hours in the air before arriving in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and trekking to their camp. The expedition is being led by a team that includes a former space shuttle commander and a former astronaut trainer and will also include extensive leadership training, team-building and communication exercises.
Both teams are soliciting questions about the event from students around the world and posting answers, videos and updates on a blog at http://ccsscvenustransit2012.blogspot.com.
In addition to the teams traveling to the other side of the globe to record the transit, one team will remain in Georgia to provide local images and video of the event. A Columbus State University student, Katherine Lodder, will provide yet another set of U.S. images from Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Other Columbus State University students involved in the effort will be behind the scenes working on the computers to coordinate images and the webcast.
Experts caution that the only safe ways to view the Transit of Venus will be through a solar-filtered telescope, a rear-projection screen, welding glasses (No. 14 or above) or a live webcast such as that being staged by NASA and CSU's center. In Georgia, on Tuesday, June 5, the transit will be viewable starting at about 6 p.m., continuing until sunset. CSU staffers stationed in Mongolia and Australia will be able to view and record the entire seven-hour event, continuing into Wednesday, June 6.
"Literally, we want geographically disparate sites so we don't get clouded out," Cruzen said.
They will send images back to the Coca-Cola Space Science Center at 701 Front Ave. in downtown Columbus, which will be open for visitors to see pictures and videos of the transit from 5:30-11 p.m. June 5.
Historians have traced interest in the Transit of Venus to ancient civilizations, but scientists began focusing on the planet’s movements starting in the 18th Century as a means of determining the size of the Earth's solar system.
"Today, we know the size of the solar system," Cruzen said. "But now, it can inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers."
The three continental teams capturing the transit will be equipped with hydrogen alpha, calcium K-line, and solar white light filters that will allow for spectacular imaging of this event. These filters are provided by the center’s Mead Observatory, where they are used regularly to obtain images and animations of solar phenomena such as sunspots, flares, plages, faculae, prominences, and filaments. Typically, students from Columbus State study these solar phenomena to better understand the sun’s cycle of activity and its interaction with the Earth. However, during the Transit of Venus, these solar features will become, for one final period in our lives, the stunning backdrop against which Venus’ planetary disk will cross the sun’s 865,000-mile face.
For more information, contact:
Mary H. Johnson
Assistant Director, Coca-Cola Space Science Center
Columbus State University
Image, above: Logos of the Coca-Cola Space Science Center indicate foreign locations where its teams will be stationed, in Mongolia and Australia. (Download highest-resolution version of map.)