Space Center packed for Venus viewing

DOWNEY - Some 500 visitors flocked to the Columbia Memorial Space Center on Tuesday to take a first-hand look at the Transit of Venus, considered in scientific circles as a once-in-105-years phenomenon. Indeed, the next sighting of the rare event is not expected until the year 2117. This is when earth, Venus, and the sun are again linearly aligned. Somebody joked on TV that it would take a lot of good food and rest to enable anybody to enjoy its next coming.

For the people who turned out at the space center, they had a chance at peering through telescopes set up outside by a few game astronomy enthusiasts, and see a tiny black dot slowly inch its way across the solar disc.

One reason why scientists were supposedly extremely interested in observing the transit is that they want to test ideas about earth-like planets elsewhere in the galaxy, as well as to learn more about Venus itself and its "complex atmosphere." Another key scientific significance is that these planetary transits, they say, "represent one of the best methods for finding worlds orbiting distant stars."

There were three ways to know what was happening on Tuesday. One was through the telescope, another was viewing the transit using a cardboard box solar viewer (used extensively at the last solar eclipse), and watching the phenomenon unfold on the giant screen inside the center, as it was streamed by NASA.

The center's Kaili Torres said people started arriving at the center at 3 p.m. It wasn't until 5 p.m., though, that the visitors were admitted free of charge inside (the usual entrance fee is $5). Whereupon the kids excitedly took advantage of the many exhibits the center provides.

According to Torres, membership in the center's newest club, the Astronomy Club, now numbers some 30 astronomy lovers of all ages. According to its flyer, the club, which meets monthly on Saturdays, will "include a fascinating program about the night sky and a chance for members and guests to get together and talk about 'all things astronomy'". Information on how to pick the proper telescope, how to use a telescope, how to build one, and how to identify different celestial objects will also be presented.

The space center has also issued a press release announcing its newest exhibit, "Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, and Meteors," which will have its ribbon cutting on June 12 at 10 a.m. and will run from June 12-Sept. 16.

The national traveling exhibit, designed to show the impact of these extraterrestrial objects, past and present, was developed by the Space Science Institute's National Center for Interactive Learning, with funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA, as well as special local funding provided by Downey-based Financial Partners Credit Union.

It was also learned that Columbia Memorial Space Center now boasts 104 card-carrying members, up from a membership roll of 70 last year.

For more information about the above, call (562) 231-1205. The center is located at 12400 Columbia Way, Downey.

********** Published: June 07, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 08