Stargazers of all ages turned out in droves for the transit of Venus event hosted by the SUNY New Paltz Physics Department and the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association (MHAA) on June 5.
Though the clouds put a damper on the viewing portion of the evening, a standing room only talk in the Lecture Center, conducted by Professor Amy Forestell (Physics), drew more than 250 people. The event, during which the planet Venus passes directly between Earth and the sun, occurs in pairs just once every century (the transit had last taken place in 2004 and will not happen again until 2117). The transit, according to New Paltz senior Linux administrator and MHAA member Paul Chauvet (who helped organize the event), was used back in 1639 as a way of estimating the distance between the sun and Earth.
“Historically only scientists were able to view the transit of Venus, and they traveled to distant corners of the globe to [do] so,” said Forrestell. “We are fortunate to live in an age when significant astronomical events are easily accessible to the public, and I am especially pleased that so many members of our community came out and took advantage of our program.”
After Forestell’s lecture, attendees were eager to utilize solar telescopes provided by the college and the MHAA to view the transit – which was to be visible from New Paltz between 6:03 p.m. and sunset at 8:05 p.m. – but were met instead by a sky obscured by clouds. Luckily, a live feed of the transit from Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii (from which the entire transit was viewable from start to finish) was displayed on a large screen in the Lecture Center.
“Although the clouds limited our ability to view the sun through a telescope, we were able to watch the event live from sunnier locales, which was still very exciting and provided a connection to the innumerable other people around the world also watching,” said Forestell. “Community members walked away understanding what the transit was, appreciating its historical significance, and feeling like a part of something larger, from the local and global community to the entire solar system.”