Elon draws crowds to Transit of Venus space event
The campus and surrounding communities gathered to watch an occurrence that won’t happen again until 2117.
They were senior citizens, toddlers in strollers and every age in between, milling together on the roof of the Koury Athletic Center to watch the heavens for an event not to happen again in their lifetimes.
Not the seniors’ lifetimes, at least. The children? Who knows?
Members of the Elon University campus community and surrounding areas gathered June 5 for a “Transit of Venus” watch party hosted by the Department of Physics. Led by department chair and Associate Professor Tony Crider, visitors peered through special glasses and telescopes as Venus crossed in front of the sun.
The passage that saw the second planet of the solar system cast a dark spot on the sun, a phenomena known as the Transit of Venus, occurs in pairs separated by eight years. However, each pair is separated by more than a century. Since the Tuesday evening event followed a transit that took place in 2004, astronomers know the next time Venus will pass before the sun will be in the year 2117.
If you’re over the age of 10, that likely means it was your last chance to see it, which was unfortunate considering the clouds draping the sun for much of the two-and-a-half hour transit.
That didn’t deter many visitors. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said James Stout, a candidate in the Elon University DPT program who visited the observation platform with classmates Grant Banks, Max Banks and Robert Hensley. “I wanted to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I saw that!’”
The program was a way for the physics department to strengthen and build relationships in the community. The crowd of about 200 people was larger than Crider anticipated; he distributed the 100 special eclipse glasses he had purchased for the transit within the first few minutes of the program, even as families continued to flood the observation area.
Crider said he believes social media played a role in the turnout.
“Social media has led to a larger awareness of events in space,” Crider said. “And people have always wanted to understand how things began, how they’ll end, and if we’re alone. Astronomy is something that tries to answer these questions.”
Visitors said as much. “We have no clue what’s out there!” said Krysten O’Hara, an Elon University junior who recently studied astronomy in one of Crider’s classes. “This is such a rare occurrence … there were so many (astronomical events) I missed as a child.”
As for the transit itself, spectators said they were happy to watch, though they know the astronomical rarity wasn’t necessarily spectacular. “It’s not like a solar eclipse where – boom! – there’s darkness,” said Max Banks, one of candidates from the DPT program.