The phrase "once in a lifetime" is used loosely nowadays.
But unless you plan on living until the year 2117, this is the last time to witness a rare cosmic event called the transit of Venus.
On Tuesday from about 5:30 p.m. to sunset, a properly protected eye will be able to see the planet Venus crossing the face of the sun. A telescope will produce a more exciting view, which is why Blair County's Starlight Astronomy Club will host a transit-watching event in the parking lot of the Blair County Convention Center for families to enjoy. The club will provide solar viewing telescopes and solar projection systems, as well as views of the transit from other countries to be projected in case of cloudy skies.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Darren Weimert of Altoona (left) listens as Tom Kasner, also of Altoona, explains how his telescope works. Kasner was among a group of amateur astronomers who set up at Canoe Creek State Park in Hollidaysburg this past?Monday as a trial run to see the Venus transit.
The transits of Venus occur in pairs, with the last one having occurred in 2004. Tom Kasner, president of the Starlight Astronomy Club, said he saw the last transit for about an hour, and is excited to show this one to locals who haven't seen it before, weather permitting.
"If we rush up to Alaska, we'll see the whole thing, but it's a long trip," he joked.
As early as the 1600s when the transit was first anticipated, sighted and recorded, early astronomers used the event to try to measure how far the earth was from the sun, and how large Venus was, Kasner said.
If you go
What: Observation of the transit of Venus, sponsored by the Starlight Astronomy Club
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Parking lot of the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona
Details: Event is free and open to the public
"[It's] math beyond my two-plus-two-equals-four," he added with a laugh.
Now, cosmic events like these are less important scientifically due to modern technology. But Jim Krug, astronomy teacher and planetarium director at Altoona Area High School, said it should be no less exciting.
"I think events like that really make people aware that they're just one piece of a much larger picture," he said. "People don't look at [the sky] as much these days, and I think we lose sight of all the amazing things that happen. I think the Venus transit really reminds you of that."
Krug said he has instructed his students who were interested in witnessing the transit to attend the Convention Center event. Whether it's being witnessed through a telescope or through glasses that provide protection from the damaging rays of the sun, Krug said after also seeing it in 2004, he wouldn't want anyone to miss it.
"There's just something about seeing such a rare event in person with your own eyes that is truly compelling," he added.
Kasner said they will have a Coronado telescope on hand at the event, which has a filter that still allows a large spectrum of light to come through.
"It allows us to see the boiling surface of the sun, which you wouldn't normally be able to see," he said.
The group will also have regular telescopes with solar-safe filters, that will allow a view of sun spots and of the planet's crossing. There will also be glasses for sale, but Kasner said viewing the transit without the use of a telescope makes the sight of Venus only about the size of your little finger held up at arms length.
"It's tiny. It's a tiny little thing," he said.
No matter how you choose to view this truly once-in-a-life time event, Kasner would encourage anyone to come to the Convention Center and let the Starlight Astronomy Club lend a hand.
"It's there, and you get to see it up close and personal in a variety of ways," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.