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Charles Schweighauser
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Rare astronomical event will occur on June 8

May 12, 2004

Note: In order to safely view the event described below with binoculars, a telescope, or the naked eye, adequate solar filtration devices must be used to avoid permanent eye damage. Never look at the sun, under any circumstances, without proper filtration.

Click here to view diagrams in pdf format that illustrate the event described in this release.

View from Springfield

View from space

SPRINGFIELD – On Tuesday, June 8, the planet Venus will move across the Sun as seen from the Earth, a relatively rare phenomenon known as a “transit.” The final stages of the event will be visible in Springfield. Charles Schweighauser, professor of Astronomy/Physics at the University of Illinois at Springfield, explains:

“The only planets to transit the Sun are Venus and Mercury, which observers on earth can see because these two planets are closer to the Sun than we are.

“The reason there is not a transit of Venus every time it comes between us and the Sun is because the orbital planes of the Earth and Venus are tilted in relation to each other. This means that when Venus orbits between us and the Sun it is usually either north or south of the Sun as seen from earth.

“While transits of Mercury occur on average about 13 times each century, transits of Venus are much less frequent and occur in pairs. The most recent pair of transits of Venus occurred on December 9, 1874, and December 6, 1882, which means that no one now living has ever seen a transit of Venus. The current pair of transits will occur on Tuesday, June 8, 2004, and Wednesday, June 6, 2012, and the next pair after that will be in the years 2117 and 2125. During the 6,000-year interval from 2000 BC to 4000 AD there will be a total of only 81 transits of Venus. Since the invention of the astronomical telescope in 1609, there have been just six transits of Venus. Even though the transit on June 8 will not teach us much about Venus scientifically, it is well worth noting because the event is so rare compared to the length of a human life.

“The June 8 transit, lasting six hours and 12 minutes as Venus moves across the face of the Sun from east to west, will be visible in its entirety from most of Europe, Africa, and Asia. People in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia will be able to see the beginning of the transit, but the Sun will set in these parts of the globe before it’s complete. Observers in western Africa, eastern North America – including Illinois – and most of South America will see the end of the transit because it will already be in progress when the Sun rises in these regions.

“In Springfield, sunrise will occur at 5:32 a.m. CDT, when Venus will be close to the Sun’s western limb, having its last contact with the Sun at 6:25 a.m. The Sun will be only nine degrees above Springfield’s eastern horizon at this time. Thus, observers in Springfield will see only about the last 20 percent of the transit. Venus will be in the southern part of the Sun’s disk.

“Because the sun will be so close to the eastern horizon, Venus will be difficult to see and visibility could be additionally hampered by haze and clouds.”

Schweighauser also cautioned, “In order to safely view this event with binoculars, a telescope, or the naked eye, adequate solar filtration devices must be used to avoid permanent eye damage. Never look at the sun, under any circumstances, without proper filtration.”

The UIS observatory will not be open for the event.

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