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NYC Preps For Rare Transit Of Venus

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City astronomers will aim their telescopes westward one week from Tuesday to get a rare glimpse of the planet Venus gliding across the face of the Sun.

The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York are setting up public viewings along the High Line at 14th St. and 10th Ave as well as Riverside Park South near Pier 1 Cafe close to 70th Street.

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The transit begins at 6:04 pm on June 5th , New Yorkers will only be able to view it for two hours before the Sun sets.

"It's a precious two hours," said astronomer Jason Kendall.

Astronomers advise viewers to never look directly at the Sun and wear glasses equipped with special solar filters, available at hardware stores. The AAA's telescopes will also have solar filters so people can safely view the event. Regular sunglasses don't provide enough protection from the Sun's rays.

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After the sun sets, Kendall and other astronomers will focus their telescopes on the Moon and other celestial objects. Weather permitting, the star party will last until 11 p.m. NASA is also providing a remote viewing on their website, moderated with live astronomer chats.

A Venus transit occurs when the planet crosses directly in front of the Sun from Earth's perspective. It appears as a small black dot sliding over the fiery ball. The transit is part of a long Venus cycle and occurs in pairs. The last one occurred in 2004 and the next pair won't take place until December 2117 and 2125.

Aside from their striking appearance, transits reveal information about the cosmos. For the 1761 transit, Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason were two of several scientists stationed around the world to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun. James Cook's first voyage took him to Tahiti to study the 1761 transit. Measurements were further refined during the last pair of transits in 1874 and 1882.

This transit will aid astronomers in finding exoplanets--or planets revolving around stars other than our Sun. A planet crossing in front of a star causes a slight dip in brightness. Since Venus' size and atmosphere are well-known, measuring its impact on the Sun's brightness will give astronomers a benchmark when studying other planets.

The Hubble Space Telescope will observe sunlight reflected off the Moon. This reveals even more information about the Venus' atmosphere. Using this as a guide, astronomers will be able to detect if other exoplanets have a similar makeup.

But you don't have to be an astronomer to appreciate the beauty of the transit, Kendall said. "This is an exciting event to share with the public."

People will spend thousands traveling to the best viewing locations such as Hawaii or New Zealand. While the location might be optimal, there's no guarantee it won't be cloudy.

A Venus Transit is an excellent opportunity to experience the beauty of astronomy, Kendall said. He added that humans and stars are made from the same basic materials, which makes us all intimately related to the cosmos.

"Looking at the stars appeals to everyone on a fundamental level," he said. "When you say the word 'wonder,' you automatically look up. It's a reflex."


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