"Once in a lifetime" transit of Venus viewing parties near you

Jun 3, 2012

Star gazers in Michigan are preparing for a rare occasion Tuesday night when the path of the planet Venus can be seen crossing the sun.

The event is known as the transit of Venus and it only happens, in pairs, every hundred years or so. The next transit of Venus isn’t for another 100 years.

I stumbled across the transit while gulping down an awesome new beer at one of my favorite spots in Benton Harbor, The Livery Microbrewery.

I chose a Venusian Ale for the ingredients. I’m a sucker for “Michigan made” so the blend of “Michigan Red Wheat malts meet all Northern Michigan hops and 60# of Dark Michigan Honey” was right down my alley. Then co-owner Leslie Pickell told me all about the beer made especially for their transit of Venus viewing party – complete with an awesome art show inspired by the transit AND a keg-time-capsule for the people alive during the next transit. 

Once I started looking around, I discovered dozens of viewing parties across the state. Here's a short list:

Albion College physics professor Nicolle Zellner shared some stories of how early astronomers traveled long distances to view the transit of Venus as a way to figure out how far away the earth is from the sun.

“I don’t know how to say this, but today it’s more of a public relations event,” Zellner said, because so many people across the globe can see it at the same time; nothing like it was a few hundred years ago. Although she points out that scientist now use the transit as a way to refine a similar process used to find undiscovered planets.

People in Michigan will be able to see the transit of Venus for a roughly three hour window beginning at 6 o’clock and lasting until the sun sets.

The transit won’t happen again until the year 2117, so it’s a pretty big deal to professional and amateur astronomers alike.

“Oh yeah, we’re having a full out party,” said Richard Bell, President of the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society.

Bell’s group is hosting a viewing party on the sand dunes of a state park on Lake Michigan right near the Indiana border. They’ll have more than a dozen telescopes on hand for people to use for free.

“It’s just amazing to you know, sit on the earth see the sun and see this other planet, an entire planet, move across the sun’s disk. It’s like seeing a great machine working,” Bell said.

Chuck Bueter has set up a website dedicated to the transit. He says Venus will look like a small black dot on the sun, but adds that nothing to be disappointed over.

"When you’re looking at this planet Venus, realize that dot is almost the size of the earth and it’s just suspended out there in space slowly moving in front of the sun and the sun in the background is huge. So it really brings it into perspective."

The best way to see it is through a telescope with special filters or with special glasses that protect your eyes from the sun. If you miss it, NASA will have a recorded webcast available.