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Venus dotting the Sun

Wednesday, June 06, 2012
By Pushkar Ganesh Vaidya

Today, early-bird Mumbaikars in the know will get a chance to see the transit of our neighbouring planet, Venus, as it moves across the face of the Sun, from 3:39 a.m. – about 10 minutes before the first local train leaves from Borivli to Churchgate.

Not that there was any point in reaching early, for we must wait for the Sun to rise. So 6 a.m. onwards would be a better bet. And if you have got this newspaper early enough, there is time for you to watch, for the phenomenon ends at 10:19 a.m. Note, cloud cover may block your view but do not hold BMC responsible for that! And yes, Do Not Look at the Sun directly – it can damage your eyesight. Use solar filters or project the Sun’s image on a white sheet of paper. Seek proper guidance.

Alternatively, just sit back and enjoy the transit on television or on the web.

Venus is almost as big as Earth – about 12,000 km across. However, Venus will appear as only 0.07 percent of the size of the sun as it slowly moves as a small black dot across the disk of the Sun - at a distance of 42 million kilometers from Earth. Set your expectations right!

The Transit of Venus is a rare event. But even this is a relative term though. The transits of Venus have been occurring for millions of years. Humans are relatively new to Earth – we have been around for only 2 million years or so – yet the transit of Venus has occurred about 16,000 times right under our noses – rather, above it!

Transits are pretty common in our solar system. From Earth we can watch the transits of Venus and Mercury (as these planets are between Earth and Sun). The next transit of Mercury is in 2016. Do you want to watch the transit of Earth? Well, you can surely watch it from Mars – just be there in the year 5003.

Transits of Venus happen in pairs that are eight years apart (2004 and 2012) followed by a gap of over 100 years. The next time the transit happens, it would be the year 2117 - a very long-lived Tendulkar would have just scored his 477th century! Unless longevity is considerably improved, we will all be dead. Thus, the transit is truly a ‘once in a life time opportunity.’ Watch it. 

The author is a scientist and heads the Indian Astrobiology Research Centre based in Malad.

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