Press Release

Venus Transit 2004 and the Important Role of Amateur Astronomers

By SpaceRef Editor
May 10, 2004
Filed under , ,
Venus Transit 2004 and the Important Role of Amateur Astronomers

The full text of VT-2004 Press Communication 03 (May 10, 2004), with
one photo and all weblinks, is available at:

Observations of Venus

During the past days, Venus has moved closer to the Sun in the
sky. The distance is now about 35 deg and as it continues to diminish,
Venus will approach the western horizon in the evening twilight and
become more difficult to observe. At this moment, its crescent has
already become quite narrow and, as seen from the Earth, only 20% of
its disc is illuminated by sunlight. Venus is now 59 million km from
the Earth.

On May 21, just after noon, the young Moon will move in front of
Venus’ thin crescent and hide the planet from view for observers in a
broad zone stretching from the Atlantic over Europe to central Asia
(the zone of visibility will be found here). This event, which is
known as a “Venus occultation” by astronomers, will last approximately
1 1/2 hours. The Moon and Venus will be only 25 deg away from the Sun
in the bright sky, so observations will not be easy. Nevertheless, it
is expected that interesting video sequences of the disapperance of
Venus’ crescent behind the dark limb of the Moon will be secured. More
information will be given at the VT-2004 website in due time.

VT-2004 Amateur Astronomers’ Meeting in Brandys (Czech Republic)

The VT-2004 programme reached one of its highlights so far during the
past weekend: From May 7-9, about 40 amateur astronomers from most
European countries met at the historical castle in Brandys nad Labem
near Prague, Czech Republik. A main purpose of the meeting was to
exchange information about the numerous activities now underway in
many places all over Europe for the Venus Transit by amateur
astronomers, to make the extensive resources of this public
educational programme more accessible to them and at the same time to
stimulate the very valuable contributions they can give to the
programme. The site of the meeting had a special significance for the
participants: the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe was here in 1599-1600.

The importance of this symposium was impressively underlined during
the opening ceremony which was attended by high-ranking officials,
including Prof. Helena Illnerova, President of the Academy of Sciences
of the Czech Republik, Ing. Jan Talir, representative of the ministry
of Education of the Czech Republik, Ing. Josef Zieleniec, senator of
the Czech Parliament, and Prof. Jan Palous, director of the
Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech
Republic. The fact that the international, EC-supported VT-2004
astronomy meeting was held just a few days after the accession of the
Czech Republic to the European Union was seen as a strong symbol of a
continuing, extremely welcome integration process.

As the earlier preparatory VT-2004 meeetings with teachers, media
representatives and National Node staff, also this one, with some of
the most experienced and progressive amateur astronomers in Europe,
proved very fruitful for all participants. A well organised programme
included extensive coverage of the Venus Transit from the
astronomical, historical and observational points of view, with
background talks on extrasolar planets and an overview of the
exploration of our solar system by European scientists.

On the side of the amateurs it became apparent that an substantial
number of related activities in all countries is in preparation,
ranging from telescopic observing sessions in remote villages in
Finland to an extensive public happening for thousands of visitors in
the Norwegian capital. Extensive national networks of amateur
associations are collaborating in France, Italy and elsewhere, and
many groups of observers from Portugal to Bulgaria also plan to let
the world participate in their programmes through live coverage
broadcast over the internet.

Advanced amateurs now possess equipment that rivals that of some
professional observatories. Many are superb, experienced observers and
will be able to furnish extensive and detailed images in several
optical filters, enhancing different phenomena on the Sun. Much useful
advice was circulated at the meeting on the kind of information
desired by amateur astronomers as well as their possibilities for
interacting with the local public. The problem of attempting to do
valid timings of the Venus contacts with the solar limb while handling
a public show is not a trivial one, nor is obvious what to do in case
of clouds moving in over a crowd of unhappy spectators!

Most impressive and promising was the genuine cooperative spirit that
quickly manifested itself across all boundaries of nationality and
language and many new contacts will now help participants to better
prepare for the upcoming event. A delightful social programme included
a visit to the house of the famous Czech astronomer Antonin Becvar, an
inspiredly guided tour through the renaissance rooms of the Brandys
Castle, as well as a very succesful visit to Ondrejov Observatory (see
photo) – further contributing to the excellent atmosphere and highly
conducive to personal contacts between the participants.

Some of the presentations given at the Brandys meeting are now
available on a dedicated page.

New Material at the VT-2004 website

A special easy-to-use Teachers’ Guide has been prepared for busy
teachers who would like to introduce their students to the Venus
transit event but have little time to spare, both in preparation for
this and in class.

More information about the observation of the Venus Transit and how to
participate in the VT-2004 Observing Campaign is now available via the
“How to Observe” webpage. This includes hints for the timing of the
four “contacts” when Venus’ disc “touches” the solar limb. There is
now also a detailed description of the use of the observations in
order to determine the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The VT-2004 website now holds about 500 Mb of information in the form
of texts, images and movies (animations). The number of visitors is
rising rapidly; the largest number of sessions for one day so far was
7726 and 43 Gb of data was delivered in the month of April 2004.

VT-2004 Final Event to be held in Paris

The VT-2004 International Steering Committee (ISC), meeting in Brandys
right after the Amateur meeting, decided to hold the Final Event of
the VT-2004 programme in the French capital, at the time of the
European Science Week during the second week of November 2004. It will
take the form of an interesting and vivid encounter between science
and society, astronomy and culture, with the participation of
(representatives of) the many partners of this broad public education
programme. The winners of the VT-2004 Video Contest will be announced
and will receive their prizes. A main goal will also be to evaluate
the VT-2004 programme itself; being the first of its kind, much useful
experience will have been gained by the involved partners – the
discussion will serve to expose the “lessons learned” for the benefit
of possible future projects of similar scope.

The final report will be released towards the end of the year. As part
of this report, a DVD will be made, assembling all the rich material
(texts, images, video clips) produced during the year by the VT-2004

SpaceRef staff editor.