Skywatchers Get A Glimpse of Solar Event

05/31/2012
Contact: Rebecca Rakoczy
Phone: 678-891-2691
Fax: 678-891-2966
Author: Rebecca Rakoczy

For Immediate Release

More than 75 sky watching enthusiasts gathered at sunset at the Georgia Perimeter College Dunwoody observatory on June 5. Their interest? A closer look at an astronomical event so rare that it would not occur again for another 105 years: the shadowy passage of Venus across the face of the sun. At GPC’s Decatur Campus, a dozen students, faculty and staff peered through a solar telescope or donned special “eclipse shades” to get a glimpse of the cosmic event, while solar telescopes also were set up on Newton and Clarkston campuses for public viewing.

Members of the GPC Dunwoody Astronomy and Physics Club helped with “traffic control,” as eager astronomy enthusiasts waited their turn to get a glimpse of the Venus using the observatory’s high powered telescope. The Dunwoody observatory’s telescope has a filter, allowing a safe viewing of the sun.

“It is one of those sights in astronomy in which one can get a sense of the depth of space,” said David Penly, GPC Dunwoody physics lab supervisor, and observatory operator. “Historically, it was through the observation of a Venus transit that astronomers determined the distance to Venus and to the Sun.”

Penly added that the transit started at different times for different observers on Earth. By comparing observations made at different locations, astronomers could triangulate the distance to Venus; by comparing the orbital periods of Venus and the Earth, they could then determine the distance to the Sun.

Only six Venus transits have been recorded as observed by humans, with the first in 1639 and the others following in 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and 2004. The next transit will be Dec. 11, 2117.

If the Venus transit wasn’t enough to sate one’s astronomical appetite, planet watchers can check the observatory’s web site at http://bit.ly/KXxF6R. Public viewings are scheduled for Saturday nights  in June, weather permitting.

The observatory, which is a small dome, is located just west of the Dunwoody Campus Learning and Resource Center. Admission is free.

-# # # -

Georgia Perimeter College, the third largest institution of the University System of Georgia, serves Approximately 27,000 students through four campuses and several sites in metro Atlanta. For additional information, visit www.gpc.edu.

-