How (And Where) to Watch the Venus Transit

A celestial triple play has families flocking to observatories and amateur astronomers’ gatherings for a shared experience not easily duplicated. Remember, view safely!


Solar Eclipse. Lunar Eclipse. Venus Transit!

It’s a trifecta for celestial viewing that has taken place all in less than a month’s time. And it’s been an excellent boost for places like the or NASA/Ames’ Exploration Center.

“We have families, multi-generational ones, who come, and it’s the grandparents or the parents who grew up with NASA and the space race who are really driving it,” said Melissa Rosengard, of the Chabot Space Center in Oakland. The end of the space shuttle had a sad feeling for those who grew up in the 1960s when the space program had experienced success and achievement, she said,

“And with the private SpaceX’s Dragon mission that just completed, it’s helped to build the excitement,” she said, referring to the first private commercial craft to dock at the International Space Station on May 31.

Chabot has opened its deck three times in the past 17 days to crowds eager to see something extraordinary, and to share that feeling with a like-minded crowd. They’re drawn by in learning more about the things happening in the sky. NASA is going to be showing alive webstream from Mauna Kea, where telescopes point at the sky from the island of Hawaii, and the atmosphere is clear. ’s observatory expects crowds eager to catch the limning effect and “the Black Drop.”

But it’s not just big institutions dedicated to space that are spreading the excitement.

Amateur astronomical society volunteers are getting ready to haul out their telescopes for a third time Tuesday, after having just brought them out for the partial lunar eclipse Sunday night. Volunteers like Sunnyvale resident Kerry Paul, a longtime member of the Peninsula Astronomical Society, will set up their telescopes in the parking lot outside of Foothill Observatory to handle the overflow crowds.

We asked Chabot staff astronomer Ben Burress what’s the big deal.

 “You're part of history,” he said. "You don't want to miss it, it won't happen again in your lifetime." He waxed effusively about seeing the first part of the pair eight years ago—and that wasn’t even in person, it was via webcast from Turkey.

Scientifically, it was a huge advance, he said. This viewing is only the eighth in all of human history, because the telescope wasn't invented until 1608. In 1639 observation expeditions went out across the planet to triangulate to figure out how far away the sun was. "Once we got that ruler, we then knew the whole scale of the solar system." 

It’s not quite as impressive as the annular eclipse of the sun, the one that we just saw on May 20. It’s more like a dot, traveling along one side of the sun.

“It’s not just any dot,” Burress said. “This is the history of Venus. Capt. Cook saw it in the 1769 in Tahiti, that’s why there’s a place called Venus Fort in Maitavai Bay."

In the Bay Area, we are on the edge of the transit, Burress said. “We will see the beginning of it, 4-5 hours of it.” To see the end, look for the live webcast from the Big Island in Hawaii, at the observatory at Mauna Kea, at altitudes where the atmosphere is very clear and an array of giant telescopes are pointed toward the sky.

And there are phenomena to look for. The time to watch is the beginning and the end of Venus’ trek across the face of the sun, Burress said.

Here's how to sound like you know what you’re talking about:

  • Tell people you’re going to be there at the beginning, because that’s where the action’s at.
  • Start tossing around terms, like “the Black Drop Effect” and impress your friends, or 
  • Ask fellow viewers if they can discern the aureole at the beginning or the end of Venus’ trek

The Black Drop Effect is a blurring caused by Earth's atmosphere, Burress said. Depending on atmospheric conditions and the telescope used, when Venus is close to the edge of the sun, it blurs, and looks like a teardrop. “It confounded scientists in the expeditions in 1761 and 1769 pair,” Burress said. “They needed to have very exact timing, down to the second. The black drop effect obscured that moment, making it difficult to tell when Venus touched the sun. By the next century 1874 and 1882 they were ready for it.”

As Venus "touches" the sun you can also look for a lighted rim of Venus on the side still extending into space, coming from Venus' atmosphere. It was the first observational evidence that Venus had an atmosphere, Burress said.  

, be safe. Do not look at the sun without appropriate solar viewing lenses. Because the Transit of Venus appears as a dot, this is an occasion where going to an observatory could be a better experience than viewing it alone or via a , whichh is safe.

Christine Douglass, a representative of the American Academy of Ophthalmology sent out an advisory Tuesday reminding people that looking directly at the sun "would damage your eye's retina, the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye that provides central vision." The following devices will not protect your eyes: sunglasses, binoculars with filters, neutral density filters, or exposed photographic or radiographic film. 


Note: If you can’t get to a telescope event, NASA’s Sun-Earth Day website has a browseable map, good information about the Transit of Venus, and a link to live webcast. “It's a good option,” Burress said. “It’s taken from good telescopes, from a good location.”

Here is a list of selected viewing sites around the Bay Area, drawn from a larger list of the Astronomical Association of Northern California.:

Most events are free or charge a nominal amount for admission.

The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley (1 Centennial Drive) will have solar telescopes for viewing the Transit of Venus safely on their main plaza Tuesday, June 5, 2:30-8:30 p.m.  There will also be solar activities developed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and astronomers who will be available to answer transit questions. The Planetarium show, Transit of Venus explains why transits are so rare, how they helped define the size of our solar system, and how they’re helping astronomers find other “Earths” around other stars. The Hall normally closes at 5 p.m., but for the time of the transit, the Hall will be open until 8 p.m. Plaza observation: Free. Indoor activities: $5 See: http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/visit/events/transit_of_venus 


 The staff at Orion Telescopes and Binoculars will have a couple of solar telescopes set up outside their store at 10555 S De Anza Blvd  Cupertino, CA to watch the Transit of Venus.

Fremont Peak / San Juan Bautista

The Fremont Peak Observatory Association will conduct a program using special solar telescopes for the Transit of Venus from about 2:30 PM to sunset at the observatory which is located in Fremont Peak State Park (6878 San Juan County Road, San Juan Bautista, CA 95045). Direction at this link: http://preview.tinyurl.com/7pov2fu Members of the public must be sure to pay the park entry fee before walking up to the observatory. They will also be handing out a limited number of approved solar viewers for direct observation of the Sun. The transit begins at 3:06 PM.

Half Moon Bay

(1410 Cabrillo Highway South Half Moon Bay, 1.3 miles South of Hwy. 92) is hosting an afternoon of astronomy viewing 3pm to 7pm, June 5. Host is Steve White (650-726-5705; cameronsinn@comcast.net of Scope City, San Francisco, who will have a special telescope that can show solar flares and prominences. Free

Los Altos Hills

Peninsula Astronomical Society is hosting a Venus Transit event 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 PM at , 12345 El Monte Road. More Information on the Night Sky Network.

Mountain View

Transit of Venus at NASA Ames Exploration Center, 1:30 p.m. to sunset; The Transit begins at about 3:15 p.m. but there are several activities beforehand explaining suns spots and the Transit. 2 p.m. - A speaker from the Kepler Mission; 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. - Hands-on opportunities; 2:45 p.m. – livestream from Mauna Kea, Hawaii (Big Island)

Mt. Diablo

Join Mt. Diablo Astronomical Society for the June 5th viewing of Venus transit of the Sun at the Juniper Campground parking area of Mt. Diablo State Park. The transit starts at 3:00 PM and ends at sunset about 8:30PM. Mt Diablo Astronomical will have safe solar telescopes available for viewing. Although there is no fee for this program there is a $10 park entrance fee.


Chabot Space & Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Open 2 to 10 p.m., with hands-on activities, live broadcasts from NASA, floor demonstrations, and viewing through its special solar telescopes. General Admission to the Center (510) 336-7373 or buy tickets to Chabot online, $11.95 for 12 and under, $12.95 seniors and students, $15.95 adults.


The Mt. Diablo Astronomical Society will host a Venus Transit viewing 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at East Bay Parks’ Shadow Cliffs, 500 Stanley Blvd., Pleasanton. No fee for the viewing, but the park entrance fee is $6.

San Mateo

College of San Mateo Observatory will be a Transit of Venus observing site, 3:00 to 7:00pm. The observatory is on the 4th floor of Building 36, where the planetarium is located. Free parking will be in the adjacent Marie Curie lot. No charge for parking. CSM will have a full aperture, white-light-equipped telescope, as well as several hydrogen-alpha (Ha) equipped solar scopes. In addition, you will be able to link to CSM’s live webcam during the transit.  See: http://collegeofsanmateo.edu/astronomy/observatory.asp

San Jose

The San Jose Astronomical Association will have Transit of Venus viewing 2:30 to at least 6:00 pm in Houge Park near the intersection of Twilight and Rupert Drives in San Jose, near Campbell and Los Gatos. SJAA members with solar gear will be ready to observe and measure the transit of our second planet from the Sun, Venus. There will be filtered binoculars, project boxes affixed to telescopes, white light filters and H-alpha filtered scopes. Someone might even bring some eclipse glasses.

Directions: After reaching the intersection, go about 150 feet north. Turn right into the driveway immediately north of the tennis court fence. See Google-supported routing at http://www.sjaa.net/directions.shtml. Please carpool if practical; parking is limited. GPS: 37.2575, -121.9423 

L.A. Chung June 05, 2012 at 03:45 PM
@Ann Krueger Spivack: It looks like Fremont Peak is about 20 minues away from you, no?


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