31 May 2012
2004 Transit of Venus in front of the Sun.  Scientists hope to use the 2012 transit to help boost the ability to study other world's atmospheres.

Astronomers world-wide will use advanced telescopes and other instruments to watch Venus cross the Sun on June 5th and 6th.  This transit will help scientists find clues in the hunt for other planets where life may exist and will be the last transit of Venus until 2117, particularly in the study of their atmospheres.

An Atmospheric Fingerprint

This event is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Through the study of the atmosphere of a well-known planet such as Venus, scientists think they will learn more on the methods to study and understand the atmospheres of extra-solar planets from other star systems, as those ones pass in front of their own stars.

These types of transits are often used by scientists to study distant stars and their planets.

The concept of studying such a transit involves sunlight that slips through the atmosphere of a planet and that fingerprint is left on the stars light.  You then separate that from the rest of the stars light by analyzing the light before, during and after the transit and look for the difference.  This gives scientists clues as to what the planet's atmosphere is made of.

The 2012 Transit

The definition of a transit is when a planet passes directly between the Sun and Earth becoming visible as a black disk moving along the surface of the Sun.  This event is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon.

2004 was the last transit of Venus and before that you have to go back to 1882. 

The start of the 2012 transit will be visible in North America, Central America and the northern part of South America on the evening of June 5th.  Due to sunset this region will not see the end of the transit.

Europe, the Middle East and South Asia will see the end stages as they go into sunrise on June 6th.

The entire transit will be visible in East Asia and the Western Pacific.

A word of caution, that due to the risk of blindness or painful and permanent eye damage, people should not look directly at the Sun without proper solar filters.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

We continue to scour the galaxy in search of other rocky planets like our own, which live in the perfect zone that is not too hot or too cold and can sustain life. The belief is that there are billions of rocky planets that could support life in our galaxy.  As of this moment there are a total of 770 known and identified extrasolar planets with more being found every day.  The latest catalog from NASA's Kepler telescope showed 2,321 planet candidates in front of 1790 stars.  Kepler is just one instrument out of a several that are used to find other worlds outside our own solar system.  So far about 46 planets have been found that could be in the habitable zone where liquid water could exist.  Scientists lack details on these atmospheres.  The 2012 transit of Venus is invaluable to help refine techniques of determining distant atmospheres and will hopefully have useful results in the future to find and study other worlds.

Source:  Phys.org


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