Want to see a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event?
There are locations across Maryland hosting viewing parties for the Transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, a rare astronomical occurrence that will begin at 6:03 p.m. Tuesday in the Baltimore area.
Often referred to as the "Evening Star" or "Morning Star," Venus is the brightest natural object in our sky after the Sun and the Moon. As the second planet from the Sun, it's closer to the Sun than the Earth is.
A "transit" occurs when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun in such a way that Venus's silhouette is backlit by the Sun's brilliant light. It last happened in 2004, and won't happen again until 2117.
“It’s a very exciting event, and since our rain date is 2117, this is the last time [to see the Transit of Venus] in a lifetime,” said Joel Goodman, a dentist from Glenelg who also is the observatory chair of the Howard Astronomical League.
Here is a selection of places in Maryland offering viewing parties for the event.
- The Westminster Astronomical Society will have observing sites on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the county’s six library systems (Westminster, 50 E. Main St.; Finksburg, 2265 Old Westminster Pike; Eldersburg, 6400 Hemlock Drive; Taneytown, 10 Grand Drive; Mount Airy, 705 Ridge Ave.; and North Carroll, 2255 Hanover Pike, Greenmount) The club is also selling solar viewing glasses for $2 a pair or three pairs for a $5 donation, according to the society’s website.
- The Howard Astronomical League will host a Transit of Venus viewing party at 5:30 p.m. at the Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock, with 20 to 25 telescopes on hand. Organizers said they expect anywhere from 50 to 500 people.
- Montgomery College will offer viewings at the Rockville campus in parking Lot 13 at the corner of Mannakee Street and Route 355 beginning at 5:30 p.m. and at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, at the top of the parking garage at Fenton and King Streets, beginning at 5 p.m. According to the college website, viewing glasses will be available.
- The Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St. in Baltimore, will have its observatory open from 5 to 8:30 p.m. for a viewing event.
A word of caution: remember, don't look directly at the Sun.
Experts suggest that one widely available filter for safe solar viewing is Number 14 welder's glass. If you're using a telescope, be sure it has a solar filter.
Pinhole projectors, though a good way to observe the sun safely, suffer from shortcomings when Venus approaches the edges of the Sun. Small features like the halo around Venus will not likely be discernible.
Editor Brandie Jefferson contributed to this story.
Know of other places in Maryland offering viewing parties? Tell us in comments.