UT offers RLM rooftop to public for rare transit of Venus


Pu Ying Huang

Austin Astronomical Society (AAS) Vice President Ron Carman looks at the transit of Venus through solar glasses Tuesday evening. Members of AAS, UT’s Astronomy department and Astronomy Students Association teamed up to provide a rare public viewing on the rooftop of Robert Lee Moore building.

Desiree Lopez

Updated June 6, 2012 at 12:23 p.m.

On June 5-6, 2012, the planet Venus made its final trek across the face of the sun until 2117.

On Tuesday, UT opened its doors to the community by offering rooftop access at Robert Lee Moore Hall to see the transit of Venus. From 5 p.m. to sunset, the Austin Astronomical Society and UT Astronomy Students Association offered several telescopes with solar filters on the roof of RLM to safely observe the transit.

Here students, professors, parents and children alike viewed the same event that was recorded for the first time in the 17th century.

Venus and Earth are not in the same plane or the same size as the sun, which makes the transit of Venus a rare event. Although Venus passes between the sun and the earth every 1.6 years, in the sun’s glare it is invisible to us on Earth because of the difference in Earth’s and Venus’ inclination to the sun.

In the 17th century, the transit had an enormous impact on the field of astronomy and gave scientists a way to measure the size of the solar system and the distance between the sun and Earth.

Marc Haeuser, a natural sciences graduate student, saw the transit when it previously took place in 2004 and for a second time today. He said to the naked eye the event is not much of a spectacle, but to those who understand the scarcity of the event, it is much more meaningful.

“Seeing a black spot cross isn’t that big of a deal, but knowing the astronomical implications and that it marks the proof of vastness beyond our planet makes it amazing,” Haeuser said. “I didn’t expect so many people, but it is a part of education and a good way to get kids interested.”

Heather Ishak, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student and Andrew Ishak, a communication graduate student, waited roughly two hours in line to take their three-year-old daughter, Evie, to see the transit of Venus.

The Ishaks said the wait was well worth it so their child could see the exceptional astronomical event firsthand.

“We decided to come to see something not always open to the public so that our daughter could experience it,” Andrew Ishak said.

As Evie Ishak danced around naming the various planets in our solar system, it was quite clear she too knew the rarity of the event and was excited to be a part of it.