By Robert Hurt | June 5th, 2012
Right now people at the Spitzer Space Telescope are taking a break from the usual day of astronomy to witness a fleetingly rare event: a transit of Venus across the Sun. The picture on this blog was taken through our stock Canon DSLR camera, with a solar filter in front to keep it from blowing out the chip (or the photographer's eyeballs).
Amazingly, if you have the correct viewing filters (and do NOT try it with anything improvised or you can really damage your retina!), and reasonably sharp eyesight, you can actually see the little dot of our neighboring planet as a speck on the Sun's visible face.
After finishing this blog, I know I'm going right back up to the roof to enjoy the event with my friends and colleagues... because I won't have another chance to see this event for over a century!
Of course Spitzer most assuredly can NOT observe our Sun directly, it has become a great asset in studying transits like this of planets orbiting other stars. It's amazing that right now we can witness something with our own eyes that telescopes like Spitzer can do for other star systems as we learn more and more about other planets. While Spitzer doesn't get a clear view of the surfaces of the stars, it can detect the tiny drop in light when the planets pass in front of or behind their stars. Check out some examples of what Spitzer has learned about other worlds using this technique!
Even though Spitzer won't be observing this, it doesn't mean that the rest of us on the project aren't excited about it!