Imagine William Shatner simply saying, "The Transit of Venus." That alone ought to have you trekking outside early this evening to observe the universe in action.
Transit of Venus. Talk about a reality show.
No, the celestial occurrence billed as The Transit of Venus is not a semi-nude woman in a scallop shell floating down Bayou Vermilion. It sounds exotic, or even erotic if you’re bent that way, but it's hardly the case.
Nor does it mean if Lee Kleinpeter happens to carry the Shocking Blue 1969 song, Venus, from his car to the KRVS studio for his Old Gold radio program on any given Thursday.
And, yes, it’s not the title of the latest Ray Bradbury novel, or even a post-sequel-prequel to the Star Wars anthology.
What it is is a rare event when the planet Venus crosses the face of the sun. The next time we’ll be able to see it is 2117. So unless there are some fantastic scientific breakthroughs, chances are this will be the last time most humans five years old and older will be able to see it in our lifetimes.
But whatever you do, don’t go looking at the sun late this afternoon to see this really cool other world happening, something you shouldn’t do anyway even with sunglasses.
Instead head on up to the downtown Lafayette parking garage on Vermilion around 5 p.m. where the Lafayette Natural History Museum and Planetarium will have four or five perfectly safe telescopes set up to view Venus cruising between the Earth and the sun.
And it's free of charge - except for the minimal parking fee.
"If there's anybody who can share this event with the public, it should be and is the Lafayette Science Museum," says Kevin B. Krantz, administrator/curator of exhibits at the LNHMP. "Our role is not only to make the public aware of it in case they don't already know, but since this is truly a once in a lifetime event, it's significant for the museum to share it with as many people as possible."
And there are two other reasons Krantz says the museum wants to share the experience: "Enlightenment and education."
Meanwhile, Krantz says the museum's observatory atop its building will record the event "for posterity, for the record."
So, if all goes well today and we're not hit by a wayward comet, Venus, the planet – a.k.a. “the morning star” and “the evening star” – will travel across the face of the sun and you can say you witnessed it.
Here are a few tips from NASA:
The transit of Venus is a rare and striking phenomenon you won't want to miss— but you must carefully follow safety procedures. Don't let the requisite warnings scare you away from witnessing this singular spectacle! You can experience the transit of Venus safely, but it is vital that you protect your eyes at all times with the proper solar filters. No matter what recommended technique you use, do not stare continuously at the Sun.
Viewing with Protection -- Experts suggests that one widely available filter for safe solar viewing is number 14 welder's glass. It is imperative that the welding hood houses a #14 or darker filter. Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number. Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe. Inexpensive Eclipse Shades have special safety filters that appear similar to sunglasses, but these filters permits safe viewing.
Telescopes with Solar Filters -- The transit of Venus is best viewed directly when magnified, which demands a telescope with a solar filter. A filtered, magnified view will clearly show the planet Venus and sunspots (here). Never look through a telescope without a solar filter on the large end of the scope. And never use small solar filters that attach to the eyepiece (as found in some older, cheaper telescopes.) See "Solar Filters" as cited above for retailers.
Pinhole projectors -- These are a safe, indirect viewing technique for observing an image of the Sun. While popular for viewing solar eclipses, pinhole projectors suffer from the same shortcomings as unmagnified views when Venus approaches the edges of the Sun. Small features like the halo around Venus will not likely be discernible. Pinhole projectors and other projection techniques are here.
Related projection methods -- One viewing technique is to project an image of the Sun onto a white surface with a projecting telescope. http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/sun/Solar_Projection.html and http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/05/stars2.html. Others follow:
The Exploratorium demonstrates how to view a planet in transit safely by projecting the image with binoculars.Check it out here.
But if you miss it this time around and you're feeling really optimistic and particularly healthy, mark your 2117 calendar for sometime in December for the next Transit of Venus.