• Viewing Solar Events Safely

    Jun. 04, 2012

    Safely See the Rare Transit of Venus on June 5

    Did you enjoy the "ring of fire" solar eclipse on May 20? Then you'll want to catch an even rarer astronomical event, the transit of Venus, on Tuesday, June 5. Just before sunset in most parts of the United States, the planet Venus will be visible as it moves across the face of the sun and partially blocks its light from reaching Earth (find a global viewing map here).

    But as with the eclipse, it's crucial that you choose a safe way to view the transit. Looking directly at it would damage your eye's retina, the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye that provides central vision. Since children's eyes are even more sensitive and easily damaged, parents need to caution their kids not to look directly at the sun.

    The following devices will not protect your eyes: sunglasses, binoculars with filters, neutral density filters, or exposed photographic or radiographic film.

    Safe options include:

    • Watch the transit at a planetarium or program by a university astronomy department. Because Venus will look quite tiny against the sun's vast surface, it will be best to watch this amazing event via professional projection on a large screen.
    • Visit NASA's website for a live-streaming broadcast and enjoy a live chat with scientists, if you like.
    • Make a simple "pinhole camera" using two sheets of white paper: make a pinhole in the center of one sheet; then stand with your back to the sun, holding that sheet so that the sun shines through the pinhole onto the second piece of paper. You'll see a small image of the transit of Venus projected on the second sheet.

    This is the last chance for anyone alive today to see the transit of Venus, since it won't happen again until 2117. The complete transit will take about six and a half hours.

    Learn more about the transit.

    Image courtesy of NASA/LMSAL.