Astronomers Train Telescopes on Venus Spectacle | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.06.2004
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Astronomers Train Telescopes on Venus Spectacle

The planet Venus began a transit across the sun on Tuesday for the first time in more than a century. The rare passage has excited stargazers and astrologers alike. In Europe, conditions were optimal for viewing.


Venus makes a once-in-a-lifetime appearance.

A cloudless sky and intense sunshine across most of Europe offered ideal conditions for viewing an astronomical wonder Tuesday morning. The Venus transit, one of the rarest celestial spectacles, last occurred in 1882 and will not be visible from Europe again until 2117. Hobby astronomers are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view the planet as it passes in front of the sun like a small dark disc. Astrologers are predicting a new beginning for all things relating to love.

Early morning appearance

Unlike a solar eclipse by the moon that is over in two or three minutes, Venus' transit provides for lengthy viewing at six hours. In Australia the passage began during prime viewing time in the afternoon, but was cut off short at sundown when the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. In Europe, the show started considerably earlier.

Venus Transit Großbritannien Fernrohr

An astronomer at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in observes the Venus transit

At London's Royal Observatory in Greenwich, stargazers first witnessed the planet as a little notch coming out of the side of the sun at 5:19 GMT. It then took about 10 minutes before the whole planet appeared on the surface. Venus crossed from the bottom left of the solar disc to the right and was out 43 million kilometers (26.7 million miles) from Earth.

Scientists said Europe, Africa and the Middle East offered the best vantage points for the event, given the mostly clear skies and the optimal time of first appearance. Views were somewhat restricted in Asia, where cloudy skies hampered visibility, and in the northeastern United States and Canada, where only the tail end of the transit could be seen.

Repeat performance in 2117

No one living has ever seen a Venus transit. The last one was 122 years ago, so no one can recall what it was like. Only six such planetary movements have ever been recorded: in 1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874 and 1882.

Venus Transit Jordanien

Jordanian woman Basma Diab, and her 9-year-old son Adham observe the reflection of the passage of Venus across the sun on a white paper in Amman, Jordan

The Venus transit occurs four times every 243 years. There are two December transits, eight years apart, and then 121.5 years later there are two June transits, also taking place eight years apart. After another 105.5 years have elapsed the cycle begins again. The next transit will occur in 2012 when it will be visible from parts of Asia and the Pacific but not Europe. The next time Venus will pass across the sun over Europe will be on Dec. 11, 2117. Not even the youngest stargazers today will be alive to witness it then.

The transits are so rare because Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has an orbital plane that is slightly tilted to Earth, the third planet in the solar system. German astronomer Johannes Kepler first predicted a Venus transit in 1627 but he died before he could witness one.

Little scientific significance

In the past Venus transits afforded scientists unique insight into planetary movement and the solar system. The last pair in 1874 and 1882 helped astronomers calculate Earth's distance from the sun. This time, though, the transit carries little scientific significance.

Nonetheless, two observatories on the Spanish Canary islands, off the coast of North Africa, have trained their giant telescopes to recalculate the distance between the Earth and the sun. "Don't expect anything new," said Luis Cuesta of the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute.

Love is in the air

For astrologers, though, the movements of the planet Venus have significant meaning for love and human relationships. The star readers see Tuesday's constellation as leading to a freeing up or rebirth in all things relating to love.

The eclipse of the sun by Venus releases negative energies, bad karma connected to love. Pain, suffering, disappointment -- the downsides in human relationships -- could all be wiped away by the magical passage of the planet governing love.

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