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May 29, 2012

Celebrate The Super-Rare Transit Of Venus With Events At The American Philosophical Society Museum And Franklin Institute, June 1-10

Transits of Venus are very rare, coming in pairs separated by more than a hundred years. This June's transit won't be repeated until the year 2117. Celebrate at the American Philosophical Society Museum and/or Franklin Institute! (Photo courtesy Franklin Institute)

Every life is full of great firsts: a first word, a first kiss, even a first time on a roller coaster, or skydiving. But how about awesome events that are (almost certainly) lasting?

June 5, it turns out, will be a monumental one of those. It’s the only time for the next 105 years that us earthlings will be able to see the planet Venus — and with our plain eyes, no less.

So unless you’re one of the lucky among us who’ll be around in 2117, best to check out (and celebrate) the interplanetary event this time around.

And in addition to providing information on the June 5 event, the American Philosophical Society Museum is offering up plenty of ways to enhance the transit of Venus experience in the surrounding days. Here are all the details, from the ground to the stars:

The transit: The mechanics of the event itself are actually relatively simple. Venus is visible because it crosses in front of the sun, which illuminates it before setting. This generally happens only four times every two centuries, although it didn’t even go down once in the 20th — the last transit was in 2004, and the one before that not since 1882.

According to the museum, this year’s transit will start at about 6 p.m. and remain visible until sunset, at 8:24 p.m. Anyone with a good view west can see it, though they recommend a solar filter, since it’s not a good idea to stare directly into the sun.

The significance: The transit of Venus holds special meaning in Philadelphia, and to the American Philosophical Society (APS) in particular. In 1769, famous Philadelphian David Rittenhouse led a legion of APS members in observing and recording a transit. The observation was one of the major scientific accomplishments of the time, and played a large part in giving American science credence and recognition worldwide.

The society: In addition to the transit observation, the American Philosophical Society has a rich history beginning with Ben Franklin in 1743. He founded it to promote “useful knowledge,” bringing together specialists in the arts, sciences and humanities as members. Today, it maintains a high-minded, elected membership, and runs a museum just next to Independence Hall, featuring all manner of rare artifacts and manuscripts, including Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence.

The celebration: Given the significance of this event in its history (and given how just plain awesome the transit is sure to be), the APS Museum is going all-out with fun events before, during and after the transit.

There’s the exhibition Transit of Venus, 1639-2012, offered in the upstairs gallery and featuring artifacts relating to the transit and its charting by APS members.

There’s The Astronomer Collapses, a theatrical performance inspired by the event and specifically commissioned for the APS museum. The man behind this is Aaron Cromie, renowned writer, director and crazy creative designer. This takes place in the picturesque Jefferson Garden outside of the museum, at various times that can be seen here.

There’s a book talk and signing by author Andrea Wulf on June 1. She’ll be discussing her upcoming book Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens.

There’s the family-friendly Transit Tune-Up, taking place on June 2-3. Expect fun talks about the transit, show-and-tell of sophisticated science instruments by local experts, hands-on science-related activities and more. Registration is requested via rsvpmuseum@amphilsoc.org.

Finally, the museum is offering special hours from June 1-10, including staying open until 9:30 p.m. on the night of the transit itself. Starting at 6:03 that evening, the museum will broadcast live feeds of the transit from areas around the world, making this last-in-a-lifetime event one to never forget.

Bonus: the Franklin Institue is hosting Transit of Venus events as well, led by Chief Astronomer Derrick Pitts. Check it out here.

Transit of Venus Celebration
When: June 1-10
Where: American Philosophical Society Museum, 104 S. 5th Street (adjacent to Independence Hall)
Cost: $1 requested donation
More info: www.apsmuseum.org

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