My friend John Sohl of Weber State University’s Department of Physics just called my attention to a nifty interactive Venus Transit Simulator that’s available online:
You’ll need Adobe Flash installed to play with it, so you can’t run it on your iPhone or iPad, but on a laptop or desktop machine it’s a lot of fun.
When the page first opens it shows you the June 5th Transit of Venus as it will appear from your location. You can turn on and off a line that shows the visible path of Venus from the perspective of Earth. That’s pretty trippy, and give you a clue about how dynamic is the Sun-Earth-Venus geometry during the transit.
You can also change your viewing locations to see how the transit would appear elsewhere on Earth. I randomly chose a location in the far northern Pacific Ocean, just south of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in order to simulate the transit from a spot on Earth that would get to see the full transit from start to finish. What I wasn’t prepared for was the strange path Venus appeared to be following from that observation point.
Let’s be clear here, Venus isn’t actually meandering crazily around the Sun; what you’re seeing is the result of Earth rotating on its axis while it orbits the Sun while Venus orbits the Sun. It’s a complicated dance in which it’s your ever-changing perspective that creates the strange and bendy path you see Venus follow, not Venus itself.
I hope you’ll get a few minutes to play with this simulation to get you prepped for the main event on Tuesday, June 5th and that you’ll take advantage of one of the free observing sites being offered to show you this once-in-a-lifetime celestial marvel.