Students, faculty and people from all over the Orlando area gathered at UCF on Tuesday for an evening that was anything but ordinary. Well, at least in outer space. While the weather in Orlando was rainy and humid, there was an event going on within the depths of the solar system that only happens twice every 120 years. And no, this wasn’t a UFO sighting.
The planet Venus, named after the Greek goddess of love and beauty, made its transit in front of the sun shortly after 6 p.m. To get the word out about this rare occurrence, the UCF Robinson Observatory and the Astronomy Society held a viewing party at the top floor of Garage A.
The viewing party called for three telescopes to be used. Each telescope had solar filters to allow everyone to look at the sun safely by cutting down the sun’s light. The Astronomy Society also handed out “eclipse glasses,” which were basically solar filter glasses made for people to look straight at the sun with no harm. More than 60 onlookers joined together to observe the Venus transit as the sun went down.
Those who were able to watch this occurrence were witnessing a rare planetary alignment, which is called a transit. In this case, the sun, Venus and Earth formed almost a perfect line in that order.
“This is rare because the distances between the planets are pretty big [tens of millions of miles]. So to get this alignment you need to have just the right conditions,” UCF astronomy professor Yan Fernandez said.
Although it was raining, people came out in droves to see something that doesn’t happen every day.
“The last event was in 2004, but before that the last transits were in 1874 and 1882," Fernandez said. “The next transits won’t happen until 2117 and 2125.”
For those interested in planetary alignments and solar transits, the UCF Astronomy Society is a very hands-on interactive organization. The Astronomy Society meets bi-monthly to discuss current astronomy topics, and each semester students of the society are responsible for producing a project. Last semester, the organization launched a weather balloon.
“We do a lot of public outreach to get people involved, but what I love about this club is that usually after every meeting we go to the Robinson Observatory on campus,” said junior Allison Bratcher, an astronomy major and physics minor.
“I was happily surprised that there was such an enthusiastic crowd, despite the rain,” Fernandez said.
Although the solar system may seem like a perplexing realm, intergalactic learning can be for everyone. Mya Jackson, a senior majoring in hospitality, feels that she may have found a new hobby.
“I originally just came with my friend, but now I will most certainly start making regular trips to the Observatory," Jackson said. "This stuff is too cool.”