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Northwestern Crowd Enjoys Venus Transit

Nearly a thousand people of all ages safely view rare celestial spectacle

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June 6, 2012 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Nearly a thousand people from Northwestern University and the local community crowded the Technological Institute plaza yesterday to view a celestial spectacle that won’t be visible again from Earth until 2117. And the Chicago weather cooperated.

Around 5 p.m., without a cloud in the bright blue sky, the planet Venus started its journey across the front of the sun and was visibly silhouetted for hours. People of all ages lined up to see the small black dot against the big bright orb using telescopes and binoculars adapted with solar filters for safe viewing. Others in the crowd used various materials to make pinhole projectors.

“We couldn’t have wished for better weather or a nicer turnout from the community,” said Michael Smutko, distinguished senior lecturer in the department of physics and astronomy. “It’s too bad we will have to wait 105 years to do this again!”

The telescope of the historic Dearborn Observatory also was focused on the transit of Venus. Astronomy faculty, postdocs, students, staff and guests gathered to check out three different views of the event. (The small space prevented the observatory from being open to the public.)

Trees obscured the sun close to 6:30 p.m. for those viewing at Dearborn, but the Tech viewing continued until sunset. As the sun dipped below the horizon around 8 p.m., the last dozen spectators had to concede the transit of Venus was literally out of sight.

Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) organized the viewings.

Topics: Campus Life, Neighborhood