All right, everybody chill for a minute because I have some VERY important shit to relate to you about a planet that’s near and dear to our planet. Venus. Heard of it, right? This is a joint that astronomer-types normally refer to as an “inferior planet”, and at first glance you might think that’s because Venus doesn’t have a lot of the cool stuff that the Earth does, such as oceans, free atmospheric hydrogen, J-Pop, etc. But actually, all “inferior” means is that Venus is just closer to the Sun that we are, which makes Venus one of only two planets that can do this as viewed from the Earth:
This OMGWTF-ness is known as a “transit”, when Venus crosses the face of the Sun as seen from Earth (Mercury also does this, but Mercury is smaller and farther away from Earth which means that Venus transits are way more awesomer). Transit of Venus don’t happen very often. The last one was in 2004, but the one before that was in 1882. There just so happens to be one coming up very shortly, on June 5th-6th of this year, but the next one after that won’t be until 2117. So unless you’ve got your room booked in the Cryo-Hotel already, this is probably your LAST FUCKING CHANCE to witness this sort of event.
Now, how exactly are you supposed to see this transit thing? Well obviously I don’t recommend looking directly at the Sun. This isn’t like a solar eclipse where you can get away with looking at the Sun for a couple of minutes; Venus is pretty damn small. However, a telescope equipped with a solar filter will give you a good view (probably the best real-time view) of the transit. You can also look at the Sun safely with dark welder’s glass or special eclipse-viewing glasses. Or you can do the pinhole-projection trick and put the transit anywhere you want.
More transit-viewing tips can be found on this awesome website.
Astronomers nerd out big time over transits because they’re an opportunity to study the small changes in luminosity that occur when the Sun isn’t at full full power due to a planet passing in front of it. Understanding these changes could help scientists better detect small exoplanets – planets that orbit stars other than our Sun.
So when will the 2012 transit of Venus be going down in your area? Check out this cool map:
If you are in North America in a place other than Alaska, Hawaii, or the very northern and western parts of Canadia, the transit will begin a few hours before sunset and end at sunset. Viewers on the east coast of the U.S. can expect the transit to start shortly after 6:00 PM on June 5th. If you’re in Iceland you get to see the transit’s beginning, sunset, sunrise, AND the end of the transit over the span of a few hours. Pretty cool, huh? For approximate transit times in your area, here is yet another excellent website (their time-zone calculator is a little wonky, though, so you might have to add an hour to the given time).
Many museums, science centers, and other awesome places will be holding transit viewing events the day of. Check the interwebs for information on events in your area and enjoy communing with the local nerd population.
Other Cool Shit About Venus:
Venus is kind of a weird planet. Did you know that a day on Venus lasts longer than a whole year? It’s true. It takes Venus 243 Earth-days to complete a full rotation, while it only takes about 224 days for Venus to complete an orbit around the Sun. Also, when all the other planets were like, “hey guys, let’s all rotate counter-clockwise! That’s totally the best direction.”, Venus just went, “fuck that, I’m rotating clockwise. Sheep.”
See? She even rotates clockwise in the anime. And you thought you’d never learn anything from watching Sailor Moon.
Venus’ atmosphere is over 96% carbon dioxide, much of which completely obscures the surface in extremely dense clouds. The surface pressure is 92 bars – 92 goddamn bars – which, just to give you an idea of how ridiculous that is, is a pressure which on Earth is only found in the oceans at a depth of 1 kilometer. So this means that not only do we have little clue as to what the surface of Venus actually looks like, but the surface pressure is so high that designing a spacecraft to land on the surface AND return data is a real pain in the ass. Oh, and by the way, the temperature on the surface of Venus is over 850 degrees F, so your puny little space probe will be baked as well as crushed should it even make it to the surface intact. Have fun with that.
…oh, one more thing about that temperature thing, the average surface temperature of Venus is hotter than the maximum surface temperature of Mercury, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. OH YEAH, EAT IT, MERCURY.
An old term used to refer to something having to do with Venus is “Venerean”. This term shares a root word with the term “venereal disease”. Venus thinks this is total bullshit and really hates it when people bring it up. “Cytherean” is kinda cool, though. Venus wishes more people would use that one.
All of the craters and other surface features on Venus are named after famous women, female mythological figures, or with female names. Notable honorees include Josephine Baker and Hua Mulan. Even Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine Days Queen”, got a crater named in her honor.