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Venus Transit: A View to Remember

Wednesday, June 06, 2012
June 5 was the last chance this century to see the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. The next occurrence isn’t until 2117.

At Marymount, a mostly cloudy sky didn’t dampen enthusiasm as students, faculty, staff, visiting interns, and community members of all ages donned glasses with solar filters and looked through filtered telescopes to catch glimpses of the planet’s journey.

“It’s spectacular!” said Rachel MacLean ’14, a Nursing major. Stephanie Marzullo ’13, a Biology major, added, “It’s pretty cool. This isn’t something you can see anytime.” Theodore Berry ’14, a Theology major, organized the event with Marymount’s Conference Center and was delighted with the turnout. “We had 225 people of all ages at the Star-Watch Party,” he explained. “It was great to see how space affects all of us, bringing out the sense of wonder and awe.”

Before the transit began Dr. Eric Bubar, assistant professor of Physics, gave an overview of the transit’s significance and history of sightings. The Venus transit occurs only twice every century, and the transit enabled astronomers to calculate the size of the solar system. Johannes Kepler predicted the December 6, 1631 transit using data assembled by Tycho Brahe, and Jeremiah Horrocks recorded his sighting on December 4, 1639. Captain James Cook viewed a transit in 1769 from the Pacific Island Tuvalu, but it was the December 6, 1882 transit that resulted in accurate calibrations to determine the Earth’s distance to the Sun (93 million miles).

Dr. Bubar explained, "Today, the Kepler satellite looks for similar transits outside our solar system to identify planets in the ‘Goldilocks zone’” – those that are Earth-like and could be habitable. He stated, “The Kepler satellite has so far identified 1,200 potential Earth-like planets outside our solar system, and about 54 are in the Goldilocks zone.”

For June 5 viewers of the last Venus transit this century, the spectacular event was a time to reflect on our place in an immense universe.

– MU juniors Kamilla Giliazova, a Communication major; Chris Macomber, a History major; Kerry O’Donnell, an English major; and Michael Freeborn, a Communication major

PHOTO 2 – DC-area college interns living at Marymount; in the foreground is Kieran Carlisle from Penn State, who is interning at Truland Systems.

PHOTO 3 – Graham Lynch, 9, and Finn Brennan, 8, with Valerie Brennan

– Senior Biology majors Claire Lindner and Stephanie Marzullo

PHOTO 5 – NASA photo of Venus transit