WESTERN KY (6/13/12) – We are two weeks away from finding out exactly how big our solar system is, according to a global experiment conducted on June the 5th during the transit of Venus.
The transit of Venus only occurs twice every century, which means this celestial show won’t take place again for another 105 years. Venus trekked its way across the face of the sun over a 7-hour period on June the 5th, and appeared as a dark black silhouette.
Venus’s orbit is slightly peculiar; its solar transits come in pairs, spaced eight years apart, with over 100 years between them. In the past, this unusual configuration was how humans measured the solar system’s magnitude. This year was no different. Using a free Transit of Venus phone app, the public detailed their observations during the 2012 transit of Venus for a global experiment to measure the size of our solar system. This unique endeavor was spearheaded by Astronomers Without Borders (AWB), a non-profit organization that promotes sharing the sky and fostering the understanding of astronomy.
"The astronomical unit, the distance from Earth to the Sun, is known to great precision now through various means, but the project we're doing with the phone app is still going to be a great accomplishment," explained AWB President Mike Simmons. "This is the first time 21st century technology has been applied to observing a Venus transit. There were some attempts in 2004 but the technology we're using now wasn't available then. So we really are making history with this, and being part of it is tremendously exciting."
Transit of Venus phone app creator Steven van Roode tells SurfKY News that he was watching the transit in Vardø, Norway and was completely clouded out.
“I was planning to observe from this historical site, where in 1769 the transit of Venus had been observed by Maximilian Hell,” said Van Roode. “Sunday we had already explored Vardø, looking for the perfect observing spot, examining sight lines and available space. The weather was beautiful, not a cloud to see. Tuesday afternoon we drove again to Vardø from Vadsø, which is only 74 km eastward. The sky was still blue with some sparse clouds, but during our trip things changed dramatically. Coming from the east, a grey blanket soon covered the entire sky, depriving our view of the sun. For hours we waited in vain, until an hour before midnight we thought it wiser to abandon our observing site and head towards the party tent erected for the occasion next to Vardø’s town hall.”
“Here, all kinds of activities were going on, including a projection of the direct coverage by the Norwegian television,” said Van Roode. “A third plaque was revealed, commemorating Norwegian and Hungarian ties. Hot snacks, a transit of Venus cake, a band playing Sousa’s Transit of Venus March, a quiz, songs, and dances formed the joyful entourage for us to process the great disappointment of not being able to see the transit of Venus. It was wonderful to see how the local community had put everything together, in which students had an important role. Despite the dreadful sky, the Norwegian television even had direct views from Vardø, showing interviews, the band playing and salutes at the fort at the start and end of the transit. So, all we got to see of the transit was by looking at the television screen, either in the party tent in the centre of the village, or the room of the attendants of the transit of Venus conference in Tromsø, who had traveled to Vardø the previous day,” explained Van Roode.
“The webcast from Mt. Wilson went very well, but not without some of the glitches one expects from a live remote program,” reported Simmons. “The weather was great so everyone there had a great time, at least those who weren't rushing around with cameras pointed at them.”
In total, the Venus Transit phone app received an amazing 137,098 downloads, and 4,551 observations were sent in to the database.
“The calculation will be ready in a little more than two weeks,” explained Van Roode. “François Mignard, who will analyze the data, cannot start earlier on this work.”
Steven van Roode will update SurfKY News as soon as the numbers are calculated and then we will provide an update with the results.
To read recent SurfKY News articles regarding the 2012 Transit of Venus click on the titles below.
Editorial – The Best Venus Transit Photo (In My Book)
Venus Transit – Prepare for Tomorrow, Last Chance Until 2117
Venus Transit: Global Experiment Underway - Phone App Downloaded Over 20k Times
Venus Transit - Celestial Show, Last Chance Until 2117
Information provided by Steven van Roode
Photo courtesy of NASA
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