RENO — The very rare transit of Venus today will best be viewed through a filtered telescope rather than the cardboard viewers that tens of thousands in the Reno area donned May 20 for the annular eclipse, astronomers at the University of Nevada, Reno said. The university is hosting a telescope viewing event from 3 p.m. to sunset today at its observatory at the Redfield Campus in south Reno during the transit as Venus passes between the Earth and sun.
Far fewer people are expected to view the transit of Venus than the solar eclipse, according to David Bennum, chair of the Physics Department and an astronomer and astrophysicist, because it’s just not as visually exciting as the eclipse. The next transit of Venus, which occurs in pairs about eight years apart every 100 years, will be in 2115. The last transit was in 2004.
“Venus will look like a small dot, like a solar flair, passing very slowly across the face of the sun — if you are looking through a filtered telescope,” Bennum said. “You may not be able to see it at all with the viewers used to watch the eclipse because Venus is so small.
“The viewers could work to watch the transit, but this is really a telescopic event, not a naked-eye viewing event,” he said. “We’ll be hosting a viewing event that afternoon so people can watch through filtered telescopes, and of course people should not look at the sun without the solar viewers.”
There will be several telescopes available for viewing, including the 14-inch-diameter telescope in the Fleischmann Planetarium dome at Redfield, three 11-inch diameter telescopes as well as several more provided by the Astronomical Society of Nevada. The viewing will last as long as the transit itself, about four hours. It is free and open to the public.
“This is not as scientifically interesting as it was a centuries ago,” said Dan Ruby,” associate director of Fleischmann Planetarium. “It was used to determine the Earth’s distance from the sun. We have more accurate ways to measure that now.”
Bennum said the transit of Venus was first predicted in 1631, first observed in 1639 and also made it possible for the first time for scientists to calculate the size of the solar system.
The university’s MacLean Observatory, with its two 12-foot diameter computer-controlled domes, is located at the Redfield Campus off Mount Rose Highway at 18600 Wedge Pkwy.