The practical side of the transit of Venus

The transit of Venus is cool.

I think we can all agree on that. On Tuesday, the planet Venus will pass between us and the Sun—a little black dot sliding across the face of a giant, yellow ball. Barring the Singularity, this will be your last opportunity to see a transit of Venus. The next one won't happen until December of 2117.

But, beyond looking nifty and reminding you of your own mortality, what, exactly, is the transit of Venus good for? Is this a cultural event, a scientific event, or a little of both?

Historically, the transit of Venus provided the data that allowed us to gauge the size of the solar system for the first time. This time around, according to, researchers will be watching the transit with an eye to the universe outside our solar system. That's because what we learn from the transit of Venus could help us identify planets (including Earth-ish planets) elsewhere in the galaxy.

Astronomers already key in on transits to search for alien worlds, often finding them by detecting the telltale dips in brightness exoplanets cause when they pass in front of their parent stars. NASA's Kepler space telescope has been very successful using this technique, flagging more than 2,300 candidate alien planets to date.

“During the transit, Venus Express will make important observations of Venus’ atmosphere that will be compared with ground-based telescopes to help exoplanet hunters test their techniques," said Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s Venus Express project scientist.

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Find lots of educational materials, how-tos, and useful transit of Venus information at

Check out Discovery News' guide to safely photographing the transit of Venus


  1. The transit  of  Venus is cool, but I keep  thinking it has something to do with Anaïs Nin taking the cross-town bus.

  2. It amuses me that there’s places out there still using CDE.

    I guess it could be FVWM too, which is still amusing, but not quite so much.

    1.  Remember that EULA whose “I accept” button you clicked so casually?

      At age 80 you’ll be reporting to a Soylent Corporation “welcome center.”

    1. Disregarding any directly scientific benefit the transit of 1769 resulted in the cessation of hostilities between European powers, allowing passage through their adversaries’ territorial waters, as they sent missions all around the globe to observe the phenomenon in as many places as possible.
      That’s one good thing.

  3. Looks like the UK sky will be solid cloud on Wednesday morning, which is a shame, as I have to be up before dawn anyway. *sigh* Oh, well, I didn’t really need any more intimations of mortality.

  4. We don’t need the singularity. Aubrey de Grey says we’ve got good odds to live to be a thousand, and he’s got a cooler beard than all of us combined, so he should know.

  5. I’d have to get up at 5:00am to see it. I don’t think I can be bothered. I did watch it in 2004. I suppose it’ll be pretty much the same.

  6. Hey Maggie I just found out about this project to crowd-source the measurement of the Astronomical Unit through observation of Venus crossing the Sun and geo-tagging via Twitter – all automated to go live on their site. They are looking for participants and I thought it might be something the Boingers would be interested in.

  7. The planet’s science and astronomy communities will have all available instruments trained on this rare event.  All of them busily collecting data, computing algorithms, carefully tabulating results…and that is when they attack our blind side.

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