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Venus Transit 2012: Live Coverage Of Tuesday's Astronomical Event

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Kristin Moore
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« on: June 09, 2012, 06:19:10 pm »



Venusian Skies

Image courtesy CIL/GSFC/NASA

Rays from the sun pierce Venus's thick, cloud-covered atmosphere and light up the barren landscape in an artist's illustration.

Transits of planets around other stars are being used to search for worlds that may harbor life. A tiny portion of the light from an exoplanet's host star will pass through that planet's atmosphere, which could reveal properties such as the telltale presence of water or methane. (Related: "First Exoplanet With CO2 Heats Up Hunt for Other Earths.")

However, "since the stars are so far away that no details can be seen, those exoplanet transits are visible only in the total light of the star," Pasachoff said. Scientists therefore have to make a number of estimates when analyzing transit data to tease out a planet's atmospheric properties.

Watching how the sun's light changes during the 2012 Venus transit can show astronomers whether their calculations capture the known properties of a nearby planet, helping them to refine their models for studying more distant worlds.

"Understanding the details of a transit in our own system can be the key to unlocking the transits of exoplanets in faraway solar systems," Pasachoff said.

Published June 4, 2012
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