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Venus and sun putting on rare show Tuesday night

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

Amateur astronomer Richard Drumm hopes good weather is in the stars Tuesday evening.

The president of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society will be at Big Meadows Lodge on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park Tuesday evening as Venus makes a very rare passage across the face of the sun.

"It's going to be a tiny little dot, but it's noteworthy," Drumm said in a Monday afternoon phone interview.

That's due to its rarity, he said. Cloudy skies could ruin the show, though.

"This is a highly exciting event in the sense it only happens very rarely," Middletown resident Charlie Leeper said Monday evening.

"If you had the right equipment to be able to look directly at the sun and not blind yourself, well, you could see this little dark spot move across the face of the sun," he said.

Leeper, who is a retired engineer that worked in rocketry, said Venus goes around the sun at a different speed than the Earth does, so it very seldom goes between Earth and the sun.

"The amateur astronomers of the Lord Fairfax area are all excited about" the upcoming transit, he said.

According to the website, www.transitofvenus.org, the planet's transits "have a strange pattern of frequency." There won't be another until December 2117, it says.

That transit will be followed by another one eight years later, and then it'll be another 121 years for the next transit followed by a second one eight years later, according to the site. The pattern then repeats itself, it states.

"When Venus passes directly between earth and the sun, we see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun," the site states. "Historically, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system."

Shenandoah National Park concessionaire ARAMARK Parks and Destinations has monthly "Night Skies" programs at Big Meadows, according to a news release from the national park, and is sponsoring tonight's program with Drumm.

The program is free, but there is a park entry fee, according to the release, and reservations aren't needed.

Venus' passage is expected to begin at 6 p.m. and finish at sunset just before 8 p.m., it states.

Drumm will have special viewing equipment for observers, and warns that no one should try to look directly at the transit.

"You don't want to take just any old pair of binoculars or telescope," he advised. "You want to have a special telescope, or you can take an ordinary telescope, and set it up. Don't let anybody put their eye to the eyepiece. Instead, let the eyepiece project an image of the sun onto a piece of white paper."

Drumm said someone could even trace the outline of the sun on the paper and mark Venus' transit across it, "and, you will be able to have a memento of the occasion."

"I will also have special telescopes set up -- two of them -- so people can look directly at the sun," he said.

Big Meadows Lodge is at mile 51.3 on Skyline Drive, according to the news release. For more information, call Big Meadows Lodge at 999-2221.

According to transitofvenus.org, the Slooh Space Camera will have online broadcasts of the event at www.slooh.com.

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