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June 4, 2012

Transit of Venus viewing at IUS tonight

NEW ALBANY — Astronomy nuts and casual stargazers can take their chances at sticking around until 2117 or take their last opportunity to view the transit of Venus on Tuesday at Indiana University Southeast.

Gerald Ruth, professor of geosciences at IU Southeast, will give people the opportunity to look through a special telescope tonight from 6:15 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Observatory Field North.

Ruth said the second rock from the sun will pass into visible range of Earth as a small black disc tonight. He said this won’t be seen from Earth for more than 100 years from now.

But other than just having an opportunity to see the planet, he said the event represents an important moment in the history of astronomy.

“This event was the first way we could measure the size of the solar system in the 1700s, by watching the transit of Venus on two different geographic locations on the Earth,” Ruth said.

“This was really important, and [Edmond] Haley [whom Haley’s comet is named after] was the one that basically encouraged astronomers to go different places on the globe to view this and it was successful.”

The telescope Ruth will use to help visitors see the event is fitted with a special filter to allow attendees to see the transit with the naked eye. Ruth said trying to do the same thing at home with a telescope could damage a person’s eyes.

While he helps visitors with viewing, Gary Melton, president of the IU Southeast Astronomical Society, will record the event digitally in the campus observatory. Melton said it’s fun to watch these kinds of transits, but it also gives his group an opportunity to make scientific observations.

“A lot of people approach astronomy in different ways,” Melton said. “For some, it’s romantic with the sun and the moon. We do it for preliminary research and several of our guys in the association have these cameras to see this, but hopefully we can contribute to the scientific community with our imagery.”

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