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060412-5 Dust the cobwebs off your lounge chair and set it outside. This week you will want to take in two celestial shows: a partial lunar eclipse, and a Transit of Venus.

Lunar eclipses occur when a full moon passes behind Earth, through Earth’s shadow. On Monday, June 4, 2012, skywatchers can see the first partial lunar eclipse of the year. For viewers on the east coast of the United States, this partial lunar eclipse will reach its peak of 37% darkened at 7:04 a.m. EDT (4:04 a.m. PDT). (Some viewers in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand will be able to see the eclipse.) Lunar eclipses occur only a couple of times each year (the next one will be November 28, 2012) and each is different.

Have you ever heard of the Transit of Venus? It is one of the night sky’s rarest sights. It happens twice every 150 years; the first of this two-Transit cycle happened in 2004. During a Transit of Venus, Venus travels between Earth and Sun. With proper safety measures, it is possible to watch Venus as it crosses in front of the sun.On Tuesday, June 5, 2012, the Transit will occur between 3:00 p.m. EST and 10:00 p.m. EST. (Skywatchers in parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia can watch at sunrise on June 6.) Barring life-altering medical discoveries, this is the only opportunity you will have to witness a transit of Venus. Ever. The next transit of Venus will happen long after your natural lifetime, in 2117.060412-1

This week, you will focus on the sky and learn more about two celestial events that make astronomers giddy: lunar eclipses and the transit of Venus.

A Lunar Eclipse

Slooh is a robotic telescope that shares celestial images online. Its name combines ‘slew’, the movement of a telegraph, and ‘ooh!’, the common reaction from people when they look through a telescope. You may watch the lunar eclipse live at Slooh’s website. It is also a good place to begin your exploration of lunar eclipses. Learn more about lunar eclipses by opening each of the grey boxes and then scrolling down. How do lunar eclipses vary? Why does the moon appear reddish? What information did lunar eclipses provide to scientists centuries ago?

060412-4 Visit McGraw-Hill for an interactive demonstration of lunar and solar eclipses. Begin by reading the introduction. This explains what eclipses are and why they do not occur each month. The How To tab explains the interactive’s controls. Now you are ready to manipulate the interactive. Be sure to move the box at the bottom titled, Drag Me, in order to see all the control panels. Move the moon into a lunar eclipse position. . The Drag Me box contains several guiding questions.  Scroll down in this box and try your hand at numbers 3-7 and 9. (You will also find these in the exercises section.) Discuss your work with peers, and check your work against the solutions.

The Transit of Venus

The Exploratorium site declares the Transit of Venus is “the rarest of eclipses.” If a solar eclipse is when the moon passes in front of the sun, what is the Transit of Venus? Find the answer to the question, What is a Transit of Venus? and view diagrams that illustrate the Transit.


Anyone interested in watching the Transit should be prepared and take precautions. You cannot look directly at the sun with the naked eye or with sunglasses. However, with optical protectors or filters, it is safe to watch. The Transit will be visible at different times in different parts of the world. Know when to head out to watch by consulting the 2012 Transit of Venus Map. The Transit of Venus is divided into four phases, called contacts. Read more about the contacts and what you will see. As you watch, consider the enormity of a planet, and how very small Venus appears as it passes in front of the Sun. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Take your time to take it in. Record your reactions.

How much do you know about Venus? Do you know if it is hot or cold? Do you know its placement amid the planets?  Is there evidence of life on Venus? Answer these and other questions in All about Venus.

060412-2 Throughout the past four centuries, the Transit of Venus has mesmerized, inspired, and informed scientists. It is an important event in understanding the cosmos. An astronomer first predicted the Transit of Venus in 1631, but it was not until 1639 that an observation was recorded. The timeline shares how the scientific exploration of the Transit has evolved from its discovery to present day. What made scientists viewing of the 1882 Transit unique? What has the Transit helped scientists discover about our solar system? What questions do today’s scientists hope to answer with help from the Transit?