The best way to view the June 5-6 transit of Venus safely?

You must find a way to protect your eyes if you plan to watch the transit of Venus on June 5-6, 2012. Amateur astronomer with a telescopes will be using safe solar filters on the sky end of their ‘scopes to watch the transit. If you don’t have this setup, you still have options, but not as many as for a solar eclipse. Remember, the sun is small in the sky, and Venus is much much smaller. So solar eclipse glasses and welder’s glass are not optimum, unless your eyesight is extremely good. Of course, a telescope with a special solar filter is the best way to go. If you don’t have that, you’ll probably want to use one of these tips for the best way to view the transit:

  • A home-rigged indirect viewing method.
  • Local viewing at astronomy club, park or nature center.
  • Online viewing.

Whatever you do, never look at the sun directly without a safe filter in place to protect your eyes. Besides your unprotected eyeballs, here are some other things you should not use. Do NOT use sunglasses, polaroid filters, smoked glass, exposed color film, x-ray film, or photographic neutral density filters.

The transit of Venus on June 5-6 will last seven hours. Much of the world will see it. To determine if the transit of Venus will happen while the sun is up on your part of the globe, look here: Last transit of Venus in 21st century on June 5-6, 2012. Then contemplate the options below!

Local viewing at astronomy club, park or nature center. We highly recommend this route for the 2012 transit of Venus. If you watch among other amateur astronomers and casual sky gazers, you’ll have fun, learn about transits of the inner planets and get the best possible view in your location. Find astronomy clubs or events in your location

Indirect viewing. Creating a pinhole camera is another great option, because it lets families and friends get a good view of the transit together. We recommend this article by the masters of do-it-yourself science at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Their article on how to view solar eclipses safely teaches you to make an easy pinhole projector. With it, you can shine the sun’s image onto a flat surface and impress your friends and neighbors while giving everyone (including yourself) an unforgettable experience.

Online viewing. Obviously, this method is the one of choice if the 2012 transit of Venus takes place when it is nighttime outside for you. The disadvantage here is that you won’t have the fun of seeing the event with your family, friends and neighbors. But any view of the last transit of Venus in this century is better than none. Online viewing options include:

  • put on a fantastic show for the May 20-21, 2012 solar eclipse. They’ll be broadcasting 10 free, real-time feeds of the Venus transit live from solar telescopes in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Hawaii, Norway, Arizona, and New Mexico.
  • The Exploratorium in San Francisco will be showing the transit on large screens during museum hours, and others worldwide can watch it via their live feed.
  • Bareket Observatory in Israel is offering a Live Venus transit page. They say you’ll be automatically transfered to the live images, during the event.
  • Astronomers Without Borders will stream the event live to a worldwide audience from historic Mount Wilson Observatory in Southern California.

What about using eclipse glasses or welder’s glass to view the transit? Eclipse glasses and #14 or darker welder’s glass are great for viewing solar eclipses. But remember … a solar eclipse is bigger on the sky’s dome than a transit of Venus, with the whole sun undergoing the eclipse. During a transit of Venus, you’re looking for a tiny dot (Venus) crossing the sun’s face. That’s why we feel these viewing systems aren’t optimum for a transit. Still, if your eyesight is very good, you have two more options for safe Venus transit viewing.

  • Solar eclipse glasses from commercial manufacturers.
  • Welder’s glass, #14 or darker.

Solar eclipse glasses. You might find these online or at a local nature center, or museum.  Solar eclipse glasses are super easy to use, and they’re sort of cool-looking.  Search on the words “solar eclipse glasses [your country].” I ordered some from Rainbow Symphony.  Or try a great organization, Astronomers Without Borders (whose motto is “One people, one sky”), in which case the proceeds will go to benefit astronomy programs worldwide. Minimum order 100, but if you get that many for the next solar eclipse, you’ll be the most popular person in your neighborhood. To order from Astronomy Without Borders, look here: Astronomy Without Borders solar eclipse glasses.

Welder’s glass. Be sure it is #14 or darker. The great thing about welder’s glass is that it allows you to view an eclipse or transit directly. Plus welder’s glass is a bit more durable than commercial eclipse glasses. If you’re like me, you’ll forget where you put the commercial eclipse glasses by the next eclipse. With the welder’s glass, you can always add it to your rock collection.  Search for a local “welding supply” company.

Bottom line: You several options for safely viewing the June 5-6 transit of Venus – last transit of Venus in the 21st century. You can try indirect viewing through a pinhole camera, finding a local viewing event, or watching online. Never look at the sun directly without some protection in place for your eyes!

Hear from an expert: Eye safety during solar eclipses

June 5, 2012

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