Rare astronomical event tonight: Tampa Bay area locations to see Venus transit the face of the sun

A number of Bay Area astronomy clubs will be setting up telescopes to allow you to view as the planet Venus passes directly between the Earth and the sun.

The rare event, called a transit, will start around 6:05 p.m. and ends locally at sunset. It will not occur again until the year 2117.

The Museum of Science & Industry ( MOSI) in Tampa is memorializing the event with a tribute to Venus from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Guests will be able to stargaze through telescopes, sun spotters and solar shades from on top of the IMAX DOME Theatre.

Because space is limited, pre-registration is required. Call (813) 987-6000 to register.

St. Petersburg College is setting up specially equipped telescopes at its Observatory at 6605 Fifth Avenue North in St. Petersburg to allow visitors to safely observe the transit. It will be free to watch the event. For more information, visit (727) 341-4320.

The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club is setting up video equipment on the deck of the Old Snack Shack in Madeira Beach to allow people to view the transit safely in real time. There will be astronomers on hand to answer any questions attendees may have. The event is free and open to the public.

Other members of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club will be in Tampa to conduct a free public viewing of the transit on the top floor of the Richard A. Beard parking garage on the University of South Florida campus.

Enter the USF campus at the main entrance on Fowler Avenue. Make a left at the first traffic light and the garage is located on the right at the next traffic light.

For more information on the Venus transit or to watch a live webcast of the event, visit venustransit.nasa.gov/ transitofvenus/ .

More on tonight's transit below:

There's a lot of excitement surrounding the "Transit of Venus," even though this rare astronomical event will yield little scientific value.

The next time Venus journeys across the sun will be in the year 2117, says Jack Lissauer , Kepler Mission co-investigator and planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research.

"This is the last chance for almost everybody unless we have huge medical advances," Lissauer says.

In 1769 Capt . James Cook set up an observation point in Tahiti, French Polynesia, where he collected data on Venus during the transit that took place over 243 years ago. To this day, the place Cook observed Venus' trek across the sun is known as Point Venus.

Tour operators are advertising trips to Point Venus to watch this once-in-a-lifetime event. "To be on the same spot that Cook was in the South Pacific, there's a real unique historical significance to that," said Nick Panza , vice president for Air Tahiti Nui , when asked about the company's vacation package. "For that reason we think it's the best place in the world to observe it from."

For those who want to watch the entire six-hour, 40-minute transit, Tahiti is a good place to be. "If you are in a certain part of the globe, and this includes Alaska and much of the Pacific and eastern Australia and some of northeast Asia, you can see the entire transit," Lissauer says.

It may be tempting, but please follow this warning: DO NOT STARE AT THE SUN.

If you want to look at the transit before sunset, you need a special pair of glasses, a telescope with a special filter or a pinhole camera so you do not damage your eyes.

If you are worried about your eyes or you can't make it to Tahiti to watch the entire transit, you can still witness this rare event. NASA will be providing a webcast from the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Viewers in the mid-Pacific will have great views in particular because the sun will be high overhead during the crossing. And in the United States, sunset will offer the best views.

At sunrise in 2004, the end of the Transit of Venus was visible in the eastern United States. This time it will be sunset when people throughout the contiguous United States will be able to observe part of the transit. According to Lissauer , sunset is the best time to watch because you can observe Venus with the naked eye.

"When the sun is very close to the horizon and it is very red and you can normally look at the sun without hurting your eyes," Lissauer says. "Then you can actually look at the sun directly and you will see this little circle caused by Venus blocking part of the sun's light."

This event may be more historical than scientific, but it is one astronomical event that can be enjoyed by all.

Past Transits of Venus were used to understand the size of the solar system and the distance between planets, Lissauer said.

"It's an interesting and unusual astronomical event, one that people can see actually

with their own eyes, and it has a lot of historical significance."

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