Last month, hundreds of people showed up at Caltech to view the “ring” solar eclipse. On Tuesday afternoon, they came to view a small black dot.
The Transit of Venus, seen only once or twice a century, was last visible on the West Coast in 2004. The next time Venus will pass between Earth and the sun — 2117 — most of the people on Earth today won’t be alive to see it.
The rarity of the astronomical event drew out a large crowd on the lawn behind Caltech’s Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Scotland Stephenson, a 33-year-old Burbank resident, walked with a few co-workers to the university from Chegg in Pasadena’s South Lake district.
“We’re all kind of science and physics nerds,” he said. “And apparently I won’t get the chance to see it again.”
They tried to use a pinhole camera box recycled from the solar eclipse, but the image of the sun was too small to see the dot and they used special glasses to look at the sun instead.
Venus appeared as a small hole punch in the sun shortly after 3 p.m. Ryan Trainor, a Caltech grad student in astrophysics, said the event tells scientists a lot about Venus.
“By looking at the sun, you can see the light coming through the outer layer of Venus’ atmosphere and that tells us what kind of chemicals make up Venus’ atmosphere,” he said.
Scientists are also using this technique to find habitable planets.
“This is the same technique we use to find other planets like Earth in the galaxy,” he said. “Just by looking for the shadow of something passing in front of their star.”
Mike McCarthy said he learned about the Transit of Venus from an astronomy class in school and has been waiting to see it in person.
“It kind of makes you realize how insignificant our planet really is,” said the 55-year-old Glendora resident after viewing the image in a telescope. “It’s humbling.”
The Transit of Venus is viewable until about 8 p.m. Watchers are urged to not look directly into the sun without the aid of a welder's glass, solar glasses or telescope. Caltech has a telescope open to people who did not make a reservation as well as solar glasses.
More information can be found on the Caltech Astronomy website.
-- Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News