Georgia Scientists Head to Remote Parts of World to Capture Transit of Venus
COLUMBUS, GA -- Researchers from Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center are partnering with NASA and traveling to Mongolia and Australia next month to get the best possible images of Venus passing between the Earth and the sun, a celestial event that will not take place again for another 105 years.
Space science center staff will be teaching and watching the skies at a school near Alice Springs in Australia, working from a tent city in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, and also stationed in Utah and at home in Columbus, Ga. 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 on June 5-6, and will provide an extraordinary viewing event 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 Educational 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 this entire event safely via the Internet and NASA's TV channel. Using private dollars, 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 observing conditions to acquire images and video of the entire transit.
Another team will remain in Georgia to provide local images and video of the event, and Columbus State University student Katherine Lodder will provide a second set of U.S. images from Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Other Columbus State University students involved in the effort will work behind the scenes on computers to coordinate all the images and the ensuing webcast
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 wide face, Cruzen said.
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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.)