Transit of Venus: Skywatchers rejoice in rare space event (+video)
Around the world on Tuesday, civilians and scientists alike took advantage of the rare transit of Venus across the sun.
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In fact, NASA and other space agencies trained a fleet of satellites to watch the Venus transit in unprecedented detail. NASA's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory captured spectacular photos and movies of the entire transit.Skip to next paragraph
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Astronomers and skywatchers were eagerly looking forward to seeing the so-called "Black Drop Effect," an optical illusion that occurs when just after Venus moves on to the sun's disk and just before it exits. During the illusion, the black disk of Venus appears to be connected to the edge of the sun due to a trick of optics, NASA officials said.
Even astronauts in space caught Venus transit fever.
NASA astronaut Don Pettit photographed the Venus transit from the observation deck of the International Space Station. He is the first person ever to photograph the transit from space and has been a prolific photographer of Earth and space during his months-long mission aboard the space station.
"For scientific purposes today, the transit of Venus is more of an educational opportunity to look at celestial events and learn and be delighted about how our solar systems, and the dynamics of the planets, operate," Pettit said in a video before the transit.
Venus-watching in the Big Apple
Here in New York City, hundreds of skywatchers flocked to Manhattan's west side where the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York set up two separate observing posts to catch the historic Venus transit. Clouds and occasional rain put a damper on the viewing, but for brief moments the skies parted allowing for amazing views.
Megan McDavid, of Brooklyn, said she came out to see the transit because: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is my last chance, how could you miss it?"
She admitted that the small dot of Venus was "hard to see" without telescope magnification, but said, "I feel lucky we got a few breaks in the clouds and I got a chance to see it."
Elsewhere in Manhattan, nearly 600 people packed the American Museum of Natural History to watch Venus cross the sun. The museum carried NASA's webcast from Mauna Kea live, with the crowd cheering as the event began.
"We watched a dot move across the screen and it was awesome," said skywatching enthusiast Kip Daly, 16, when asked what he'd tell his future children about the transit.
Venus transit and alien worlds
Back in Moffett Field, Calif., people turned out in droves to view the last-in-a-lifetime Venus transit at NASA's Ames Research Center about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of San Francisco. [Skywatchers Pictures of 2012 Venus Transit]
Ames' Batalha kicked things off with a standing-room-only talk at 2:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. EDT; 2130 GMT), about 30 minutes before the transit began.
As hundreds of people listened inside Ames' Exploration Center, Batalha explained why planetary transits intrigued astronomers over the centuries— and why they're still important today. NASA's Kepler space telescope uses transits to detect alien worlds, for example, flagging the tiny brightness dips caused when exoplanets cross their stars from the telescope's perspective.