East Hawaii News

Transit of Venus Visible From Big Island

June 4, 2012, 2:23 PM HST
* Updated June 5, 2:26 PM
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If clouds cooperate, Hawaii will be one of the world’s prime viewing spots for a rare astronomical event.

Beginning 10 minutes after noon (on the Big Island), the planet Venus will begin its journey in front of the sun. Viewed with the proper caution, the “Transit of Venus” will appear as a small dot gliding slowly across the sun’s face.

The transit will continue until 6:44 p.m., roughly 13 minutes before sunset.

As with solar eclipses, careful attention must be paid to the viewing method as looking directly at the sun without proper equipment can cause severe eye damage.

Various locations have been set up around the Big Island to allow safe viewing using solar telescopes fitted with filters, and other means. The latter includes some methods not dependent on clear skies at lower altitudes such as NASA’s live webcast hosted from Mauna Kea’s summit with additional feeds from Alaska and Australia.

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In East Hawaii, safe viewing will be available at the lot across from the county fire station in Keaau, and at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, which will feature NASA’s webcast.

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Viewing opportunities using solar telescopes in West Hawaii include the Canada France Hawaii Telescope headquarters in Waimea and at the Natural Energy Lab near Kailua-Kona. At the W.M. Keck observatory’s Waimea headquarters, a “livestream” of the event from the summit will be shown. Also, solar glasses and a live webcast will be available at the Pu‘ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae.

For those wishing to be slightly closer to the action, the Visitor Information Station at the 9,300-foot level of Mauna Kea will have both solar telescopes in its parking lot and a live webcast of the transit. However, once the limited parking at the VIS is full, vehicles will be detained below the facility until spaces become available.

According to the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, the Transit of Venus occurs in pairs every 105 to 120 years, with the last one occurring in 2004.

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The last transit that could be viewed in its entirety from Hawaii occurred in 1769. Partial transits were visible from the Aloha State in 1874 and 1882.

The next transits will occur in some parts of the world in 2117 and 2125, but the next full transit to be observable from Hawaii will not occur for roughly 700 years, the IFA said.

During the 1761 and 1769 transits, scientists of the day used data collected from various parts of the world to come up with the first relatively accurate measurement of the distance to the sun – about 95 million miles.

Subsequent observations from the 1874 transit, including some taken in Hawaii, allowed scientists to further refine that triangulated estimate to 93 million miles, which is close to modern measurements.

Because of the differences in the time of the setting sun elsewhere, the only places tomorrow’s transit can be viewed from start to finish are in Hawaii, Alaska and parts of Australia.

However, the Tuesday forecast from the National Weather Service isn’t promising, at least for Big Island residents.

The service said a high pressure system sitting northeast of the state will likely bring mostly cloudy weather with scattered showers to the island’s windward side. In West Hawaii, some sun is expected in the morning but clouds with scattered showers – including a slight chance of thunderstorms – is forecast for the afternoon.

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