June 01, 2012


McMaster experts to lead guided public viewing of the last transit of Venus in our lifetime


Hamilton, Ont. June 01, 2012We’ll only get one more chance to see this, and McMaster experts will be on hand to make sure we know what we’re looking at.


On Tuesday June 5, Venus will pass between Earth and the sun for only the seventh time in recorded history, a celestial event called a transit, and one that will not occur again until 2117.


The first record of a transit dates back to 1639, with the most recent being in 2004. Transits come in close pairs separated by long breaks, due to the uneven alignment of the orbits of Earth and Venus.


During Tuesday’s transit of Venus, the planet will track down the face of the sun as viewed from North America, with this part of the planet in position to see it for about three hours before the sun sets.


“I think it’s going to be amazing,” says Robert Cockcroft, manager of McMaster’s W.J. McCallion Planetarium.  “It’s pretty exciting to know that this is only the seventh time that humans have seen this event.”


(Cockcroft describes the transit in this video clip: http://youtu.be/2184FM2OSEk)


For those who use safe viewing methods to watch the event, Venus will look like a small black dot travelling through the upper right quadrant of the sun’s disk, starting at the top centre.


At 4 p.m. on the day of the transit, there will be a special presentation at the planetarium to explain the event and its significance.


Later, planetarium presenters will be welcoming the community to drop in for a free, guided look at the event. Like an eclipse, the transit is dangerous to watch directly with the naked eye, but the presenters will have a limited supply of special glasses and a telescope with a solar filter for watching the event.


The transit of Venus is not only a rare occurrence. It is also an important opportunity for astronomers, Cockcroft explains. Over history, previous transits have allowed astronomers to make increasingly precise calculations of the sun’s distance from Earth.


Modern scientists will use it as a model for studying similar transits involving more distant planets and stars.





Details on McMaster’s transit of Venus events, Tuesday June 5.:


William J. McCallion Planetarium presentation, 4 p.m.:

To reserve tickets, visit http://www.physics.mcmaster.ca/planetarium/ or call 905-525-9140 ext. 27777.


Guided viewing:

No reservations are required for the guided viewing, which is to take place on campus near the east side of the bridge over Cootes Drive, which offers an unobstructed view of the western sky. The session begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends at sunset. The transit is to begin at 6:04 p.m.


To arrange an interview, please contact:

Robert Cockcroft, Manager, WJ McCallion Planetarium.

905-525-9140, ext. 21237



For more information, please contact:


Wade Hemsworth

Public Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140, ext. 27988



Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140, ext. 22869