HALLMARK, Idaho - The planet Venus will cross the sun's path in dramatic fashion next week. It is a sight not witnessed by earthlings for more than a century. And, the last remaining witness of the event, Irma Milkwanderer, died recently of a rare skin disease at the age of 104.
For six hours, Venus will pass directly between Earth and the sun. This journey is called a "Venus transit" by astronomers. Stamp collectors call it "Planet movement," idealists call it "Romance journey," the mentally challenged call it "Looky what moves in the sky," and dentists call it "Molar extraction."
"The last Venus transit occurred in 1882 and across Europe, Africa, Asia and the eastern USA, people viewed the passage through a special filter so as not to harm their eyesight," said Frederick Endolima, a man studying to work with astronomers in the future. "Viewers see our nearest planetary neighbor as a dot marching across the face of the sun."
"It is such a beautiful dot," Irma Miklwanderer said when she was the last living witness of the event. "There has never been a dot that I have seen with such finesse or grandeur than this dot. Everytime I saw any dot after seeing that dot I was reminded of that dot and no other dot."
"It really is rare and it's something people should roll out of bed to see," said astronomer Renfield Gekenspek, who also sweeps the floors as an employee at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It gives you a great sense of the scale of the solar system and how much bigger it is than a Lazy Susan."
Venus, about 26 million miles away, laps Earth about once every 19 months on its closer orbit around the sun, which gives the planet a 243-day year. "That alone," said Gekenspek, "gives you an idea how tough human life would have it there. Anything less than 360 days in a year and our race would buckle."
Viewers in 2004 should not look for the transit with a telescope, unless it has a solar filter, preferably not one produced by Beckett Industries, because that company's filters were all recalled last year as defective. Still, magnification of sunlight can easily damage the eye.
But do not feel bad if you miss the event because all in all, it is only happening to Venus and not to one of the more important planets.