People around the globe looked toward the sun Tuesday to see the last transit of Venus in our lifetime.
The next time Venus, Earth and the sun will be so perfectly aligned won’t be until December 2117. Venus orbits the sun at an angle that makes an alignment between the planets and the sun rare.
Frank Lock, a retired physics and chemistry teacher, along with a Chestatee High School mathematics teacher, set up four reflector telescopes in the parking lot beside the school in Gainesville.
“They’ve been saying on the news this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. When it’s as easy as coming here to see it, seems like a shame to miss it,” Rick Bellows of Gainesville said.
People arrived by the carloads for the opportunity to look through the telescopes at the small, black speck of Venus against the backdrop of the sun.
Lock enthusiastically greeted each planetary observer and provided a reference sheet complete with planetary size, distances and temperatures.
He said while it’s a great opportunity to see Venus orbit the sun, it also provides a unique perspective.
“Venus is also just about the same diameter of the Earth so you’re getting a good comparison of the size of the Earth to the sun,” Lock said.
The transit of Venus occurs in pairs eight years apart about once a century. The last transit was in 2004.
Since 1639, astronomers have used the transits of Venus and Mercury to measure distances in our solar system.
According to the NASA website, radar is now used to determine those distances, but this transit will provide a valuable opportunity for scientists to study our blue neighbor.
The entire event took about seven hours but was visible from only about 6 p.m. to sunset in this region. Rain threatened to cancel the viewing, but the weather cleared just in time.
Nancy Sturtevant of Gainesville brought her daughter to watch Venus orbit the sun. She said she couldn’t pass up an educational opportunity like this.
Her daughter, ninth-grade student Katie Rose Dionne, said she was excited to see the planet in a way no one will for another century.
“I’ve seen old films and space things before but it was still awesome to see this for sure,” Dionne said smiling.
Lock recalled the last time he watched the transit of Venus, at sunset in Florida with his wife. He said that while the spectacle is a great show by Mother Nature, it also makes him realize his place in the universe.
“It makes me feel like I’m on a planet. It makes me look at that planet while it’s moving across the sun, while I’m standing on this planet and it’s moving around the sun, and that is a very cool thing,” Lock said.