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article imageVenus to cross face of sun in a once-in-a-lifetime event in June

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By Andrew Moran     May 1, 2012 in Science
Boston - Unless you plan to live for another 100 years, be sure to watch the daytime sky at the beginning of June. Our neighbouring planet Venus will appear as a black dot because it will pan across the face of our sun.
This year, space enthusiasts have been given bedazzling shows in the nighttime sky. With the planets Venus, Mars and Saturn being visible in the sky for the last couple of months and the moon to appearing as a “supermoon” this weekend, Earth’s inhabitants are certainly being spoiled.
A transit is defined as one celestial body moving across the face of another celestial body.
On June 5 and 6, be prepared to look outside during the day. Venus will become visible and appear as a black dot because it will pass across the sun. The once-in-a-lifetime event will last for about six hours on both days and will not occur again until the year 2116.
Why is this happening? The transits of Venus transpire on infrequent occasions, such as when our planet and Venus are in a line with the sun and when Venus passes below or above our star because the two orbits are at a slight angle to one another.
Transits transpire in pairs separated by eight years with the gaps interchanging between 105.5 and 121.5 years. The last one occurred in 2004. Transits of the planet Mercury, on the other hand, take place 14 times each century.
Scientists are expecting that next month’s spectacle will assist in their research of exoplanets.
“What can aid our search for exoplanets, however, is studying examples of transits in our own solar system. Doing so not only yields an improved understanding of our own cosmic neighbourhood, but also verifies that the techniques for studying events on and around other stars hold true in our own backyard,” wrote Jay M. Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College, in this month’s edition of Physics World.
“In other words, by looking up close at transits in our solar system, we may be able to see subtle effects that can help exoplanet hunters when viewing distant suns. The snag is that, here on Earth, just two planets lie between us and the Sun – Mercury and Venus. And, moreover, they cross the Sun only very rarely.”
Expanding on the scientific works of Nicolaus Copernicus, scientists have been able to record the transits of Mercury and Venus for more than four centuries now. The first recorded transit occurred in the spring of 1586 when Mercury transited the sun as seen from Venus.
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