At the end of this academic year, a marvellous and rare astronomical phenomenon will take place: on 5 and 6 June 2012 the planet Venus will pass exactly in front of the solar disk for the very last time this century. This transit of Venus provides for an unique and unparalleled opportunity to get your students actively involved in observing a daytime astronomical event and exchanging the results with others from abroad. In 2004, when a transit of Venus also took place for the first time since 1882, millions of students across the globe watched the planet against the sun and were engaged in activities increasing their understanding of solar system mechanics, the history of astronomical ideas and career opportunities.
One of the aims of the Transit of Venus Project, launched last June, is to help you science educators exploiting the full potential of the transit of Venus, from elementary to college level.
Watching the event
The most important thing is to have your students actually see the transit of Venus. The website has a calculator, which shows when the transit is visible from your location, and also presents many different ways the transit can be safely observed by large groups. For example, you can build your own Sun Funnel, allowing for convenient and safe group viewing.
Depending on the level of education, a mere look at the transit shouldn’t be enough. An activity that certainly fires one’s imagination is the determination of the sun-earth distance by combining timings of the transit taken from all around the world. Historically, this possibility kindled the great international expeditions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to observe the transit of Venus from far flung places, the most prominent expedition being that of James Cook in 1769. A phone app, which is now being developed especially for the occasion, will assist your students to re-enact these historical measurements and help them with observing the times of the transit’s start and end, and with submitting these observations to an international database. From all submitted observations, the sun-earth distance is subsequently computed in real-time.
Prior to the transit, students may be engaged in learning activities that will grow their understanding of our solar solar system and the historical development of scientific knowledge, as well as open up their horizons to today’s scientific frontiers. The Transit of Venus Project presents educational materials of its own, and is your guide to materials and activities provided by others:
In our own workbook, you will find numerous problems related to the transit of Venus students can work on, ranging from angular and distance measurements involving parallax, to the mathematical analysis of the transit’s periodicity and light curves of transiting exoplanets.
In their Space Math series, NASA presents Transit Math, providing mathematical problems featuring transit applications.
Advantageous from a didactical point of view, Udo Backhaus invites you to participate in an international project which uses simultaneously taken photographs of the transit of Venus to determine the sun-earth distance.
Late September, NASA’s Sun-Earth Day 2012 website will be launched, featuring many hands-on classroom activities for all levels of education.
Website, newsletter and Facebook
Much more educational projects are being initiated, and we would like to keep you updated on the latest developments. We do this through our website, which has a blog on its home page featuring new stories almost every day. There’s also a monthly newsletter sent to you by email and you can join our group on Facebook to keep in touch with your colleagues and other transit enthusiasts.
I hope that, through our joint efforts, this astronomical event will arouse scientific awareness in our students. Let’s work together to have each and every student – from kindergarten to college – enjoy the view of this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle in June next year!
Steven van Roode, on behalf of the Transit of Venus Project