The solar system will continue to exhibit its geometry June 6 when the planet Venus transits in front of the sun. Photo courtesy of NASA
Coastal Cosmos Featured

More spectacular sights to follow May’s solar eclipse

I just returned home from the summit of Black Mountain Open Space Park in Rancho Peñasquitos. 

The May 20 partial solar eclipse was a transcendent experience — a beautiful phenomenon that demonstrates the precise geometry of the cosmos.

North America will not have another eclipse until Aug. 21, 2017. At that time, a spectacular total solar eclipse passes through Oregon to Kentucky and Georgia. All of North America will enjoy a partial eclipse similar to May 20.

I had been looking forward to this event for about a year and it exceeded my expectations. I chose Black Mountain because I knew the marine layer would be a factor on the coast. Miner’s Loop trail off Carmel Valley Road travels through lush, fragrant chaparral for about 1.5 miles before heading south toward the service road to the 1,500-foot summit.

As the eclipse began precisely at 5:27 p.m., there were about 20 other enthusiastic observers on the summit. Slowly, the moon’s perfectly round silhouette overtook more and more of the sun. Maximum eclipse took place at 6:40 p.m., with the sun 80 percent eclipsed and appearing as a magnificent crescent.

The ambient light was unlike light I had ever witnessed. It had a muted softness that was surreal. Because the moon then relinquished its hold on the sun’s surface, an interesting occurrence took place when the sky brightened as the sun was setting.

The solar system continues to exhibit its geometry on June 6 when the planet Venus transits in front of the sun. This syzygy (“zizigee” — alignment of three celestial bodies) last occurred in 2004 and will not happen again until December 2117.

At 3:06 p.m. June 6 a small, black disk will appear on the surface of the sun and will continue to transit across the sun until sunset at 7:54 p.m. Venus transits are one of the rarest predicable astronomical events. They occur in pairs eight years apart with the following pairs happening 105.5 and 121.5 years apart. The last Venus transit took place June 8, 2004.

Venus is now the bright “evening star” in the western sky, outshining all objects except the sun and moon. When Venus passes between the Earth and sun it is in a position called inferior conjunction. In this position, Venus is 25.5 million miles from Earth. Most of the time, Venus is above or below the sun from our vantage point. However, during the rare transit it passes directly between the sun and earth.

Please view all solar phenomena with extreme care. Solar eclipse glasses, pinhole projectors and binocular projections are the easiest way to safely view the sun. Take caution and enjoy the solar system’s expression of geometry and beauty!