Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Rare astronomic event filmed at the Bayfordbury Observatory

Astronomers from around the world have been watching one of the world’s rarest predictable astronomical phenomena - the transit of Venus. The transit of Venus is when the planet passes between the Earth and Sun, and appears as a tiny black dot on the Sun’s surface – and the next one is not scheduled to take place until 2117! The UK transit was also filmed at the University’s Bayfordbury Observatory at around 4am this morning by BBC Breakfast and the BBC World Service.
Transit of Venus, photographed from Minneapolis on 5 June 2012 at 18:00:36 CDT, 23:00:36 UTC. Courtesy of Tom Ruen
According to Dr Mark Gallaway, who was interviewed yesterday by the BBC Radio Four PM programme, the Venus transit started at about 11 o’clock yesterday evening. But it was not visible in the UK until the Sun came up this morning at about 4.40am when it was towards the end of the transit.  However, colleagues based in Hawaii were able to witness the entire transit and take scientific readings and data to gain more information about the planet - like its size, its orbit and its atmosphere. The data is then used to help identify other earth-like planets.

Venus transits are of great scientific importance. Historically, they were used to calculate the first realistic estimates of the size of our Solar System. In 1769, Captain Cook used a Venus transit to get an estimate of the distance between the Earth and the Sun and gain an idea of the size of the Solar System and our place in it.

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