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This Week: Get Out and (Safely) View the Venus Transit

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This Week: Get Out and (Safely) View the Venus Transit

This is an exciting week for sky watchers. This morning brought a partial lunar eclipse to the western half of the country, and tomorrow evening, June 5, will bring a rare transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. The planet will appear as a small dark dot moving across the face of the Sun.

Rain is forecast for much of the Northeast, so Farmers’ Almanac staffers in Maine and New Jersey are likely to miss this historic event, which is a real shame, because there won’t be another transit like this until 2117.

If you’re lucky enough to have clear weather, and you want to view the transit, it’s crucially important that you take precautions to protect your eyes. As we reminded you a few weeks ago, before the annular solar eclipse, you should NEVER look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection.

One of the easiest things you can do is to get your hands on a set of eclipse glasses. These inexpensive filters, which look similar to movie 3-D glasses, protect your eyes from harmful, blinding rays, making it safe to look directly at the Sun. Regular sunglasses are not designed for direct viewing of the Sun, and should not be used to do so. Due to the relative size of Venus compared to the Sun, however, this may not be the best method to view the transit.

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The safest way to view the Sun, whether for an eclipse or an event such as the upcoming transit, is via a pinhole camera. A small opening, or pinhole, in a cardboard box, such as a shoebox or cereal box, can create an image of the Sun that can be safely viewed. Here’s a video that shows you how to construct your own pinhole camera.

Another method is to use binoculars or a small telescope mounted on a tripod to project a magnified image of the Sun onto a screen (which could just be a piece of white paper). It’s important, though, if you plan to do this, that you do not, under any circumstances, look at the Sun through the telescope or binoculars. This is one of the most dangerous things you can do for your eyesight. Here’s a video showing how to do so:

In much of North America, the action will get started in the evening — around 3 p.m. for the West Coast and 6 p.m. on the East Coast — and continue until sunset. Other parts of the world will see the entire event, the end of the event at sunrise on Wednesday, or nothing at all, depending on location.

This great website has a lot more detail about the transit, including visibility maps and a diagram of the planet’s path across the Sun.

Safe and happy viewing!

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