Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor
When Venus makes its six hour pass Tuesday between the sun and the Earth, stargazers in the Hawaii islands will be in a primary location to see the whole event.
The Transit of Venus occurs each 120 years and Hawaii – as well as Alaska and much of the Pacific – will have the best view.
The event begins at around noon and lasts six hours; just don’t stare at the sun without eye protection
“This is an important and very rare astronomical event,” said Dr. Gunther Hasinger, University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy director. “And it has an interesting history in Hawaii.”
For nearly four centuries, the sun, Venus and the people of Hawaii have been closely linked. The Transit of Venus event in the 1700s also may have led to Hawaii’s discovery by Capt. James Cook, if somewhat indirectly.
Astronomers in England first predicted the transit in 1639 and used their observations to gauge the distance to the sun, Hasinger said.
“This was a real math problem in the 17th century,” he said. “They didn’t know how far away the sun was and everything was based on what was in the Bible. They couldn’t understand how this big ball of fire in the sky had burned so long.”
European astronomers figured out they could use triangulation theory to calculate the distance if they had enough data.
Cook headed into the Pacific Ocean aboard a boat filled with scientists. They landed in Tahiti in time to track Venus’ path across the sun in 1769.
Although it is not recorded in history, Hasinger said Cook quite likely heard of the Hawaiian Islands from people in Tahiti. On a later mission to find the Northwest Passage, Cook and his crew became the first Westerners to lay eyes on the Hawaii islands.
More than a century later King Kalakaua invited astronomers to Hawaii to record the 1874 event.
The British scientists bought the very first telescopes to Hawaii and established viewing stations on Kauai, Hawaii Island and Oahu. Before he set off for meetings in Washington, D.C., the king delighted in exploring the skies through a telescope. This led him to invite the British Royal Society to build an observatory in Hawaii, which remains on the Punahou campus on Oahu.
Hawaiians clamored for a chance to look through the new-fangled telescopes.
“The British astronomers regarded the Hawaiians as something of a nuisance,” Hasinger said. “With the king in Washington, D.C., it got bad and police were called in. It was a great disappointment for the Hawaiian people.”
This century, Hasinger and his colleagues have an opportunity to make the Transit of Venus more accessible to people in Hawaii. “We want to do better than the British did 120 years ago,” he said.
Public viewings are planned at Waikiki Beach, Ford Island, Ko Olina and Haleakala, as well as several locations across the Big Island. Some 30,000 solar viewing glasses – similar to 3D glasses – will be distributed across the state.
The transits come in pairs, with the last one occurring in 2004. That was not visible from Hawaii as it was after sunset. The next events are in December 2117 and December 2125.
The June 5 event is the last transit until the year 2117. It’s the final time anyone alive today will have a chance to see this rare astronomical event and the Island of Hawaii is one of the best places on Earth to view it.
Keck Observatory is hosting a complete live webcast of the event from the Keck I Telescope control room on the summit of Mauna Kea.
Keck scientists also be set up solar telescopes and show the webcast on a large screen at its headquarters in the more temperate and accessible Waimea-Kamuela.
Paleaku Peace Gardens
Paleaku Peace Gardens in Honaunau will be open 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Free solar filters will be distributed. Please come and pick up these free solar glasses for looking directly at the sun for even a few moments can cause harm to your eyes.
Admission to the Gardens is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
The Gardens will broadcast a NASA live web-cast that will be televised from the top of Mauna Kea to a large TV screen at the Gardens.
Also available will be a telescope with a protective sun filter so visitors can safely observe the transit.
Jon Lomberg, originator of the Galaxy garden concept, will be on hand to answer questions.
Paleaku Peace Gardens is a 7-acre tropical garden with lush foliage, orchid displays and unique statuary. We are located at 83-5401 Painted Church Rd. in South Kona. Call 328-8084.
Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), Waimea
Solar telescopes and a sunspotter will be available for the public. A raffle for a copy of “Hokuloa: The 1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to Hawaii” by Michael Chauvin will also be held.
Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (VIS)
A portion of the VIS parking lot will be converted into a viewing station. Telescopes with solar filters will be available. A NASA-sponsored live web cast of the Transit will be displayed inside the VIS and in the presentation room. Parking space at the VIS is limited.
Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, Hilo
Imiloa will display the NASA webcast of the Transit. Leading up to the day of Transit, Imiloa will also be running a special planetarium show titled “When Venus Transits the Sun.”
Mauna Kea Summit
Telescopes brought to the summit by visitors or commercial tour companies will be allowed only at designated viewing areas and will be made available for public use.
Solar telescopes manned by VIS staff and volunteers will be set up for the public from noon until 6 p.m. at the following additional sites:
* Puu Hulu Hulu (intersection of Saddle Road/Rte 200 and Mauna Kea Access Road)
* Natural Energy Lab in Kailua-Kona
* Keaau, in the lot across from the Fire Station
* 7 p.m. Thursday, June 7
Keck Observatory will present Dr. Jay Pasachoff at the Gates Auditorium on the campus of Hawaii Preparatory Academy for his talk, “Transits of Venus from Earth, Jupiter and Saturn, Past Present and Future.”
More information on the Transit of Venus, public events and live streaming is available at the following websites: