GOLDENDALE -- Venus is one of the brightest lights in the night sky during the summer, but it will cause even greater stargazing excitement Tuesday, when it travels between the Earth and the sun.
To celebrate the celestial event, the Goldendale Observatory State Park will hold a Discover Outer Space program starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Visitors will have the opportunity to watch a live transmission of the transit from the safety of the observatory's solar telescope.
Roy Gephart, an environmental scientist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and an avid amateur astronomer, warns viewers to never look at the sun through stacked sunglasses, darkened glass, layers of gray plastic or the clouds.
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"The sun will appear dimmer, but the harmful solar radiation is not blocked and your eyes can be damaged before you realize it," he said. "And never look at the sun through binoculars or a telescope unless they are equipped with solar filters."
Certified solar filters block all ultraviolet, infrared and nearly all visible light. Gephart also says people can punch a pinhole into a piece of paper which will then project an image of the sun onto another piece of paper for viewing.
Video from the telescope then will be displayed on a large monitor in the indoor theater at the state park's interpretive center at 1602 Observatory Drive in Goldendale, off Highway 97. Admission to the state park is with an annual Discover Pass, which are $30 a year. Daily admission rate is $10 per car. It's about a 115-mile drive on Highway 14 from the Tri-Cities.
The Venus transit event will not happen again until December 2117.
Discover Outer Space is one of several events leading up to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission's plans to celebrate its centennial in 2013, said Hilary Schult, with the commission.
Visitors also will have the opportunity to view a partial lunar eclipse from 2:30 to 5:15 p.m. Monday at the observatory.
Stephen Stout, the observatory's interpretive specialist, will be on hand to answer questions about the Venus transit.
During this event, about one-third of the moon will be covered by Earth's shadow, giving off a reddish hue when viewed through a telescope, he said.
"The observatory will be open to anyone who'd like to watch this transit," Stout said. "The viewing won't be like a meteor where zip and it's gone. It'll last a while. In some parts of the world they'll be able to watch this for six hours or so."
Goldendale Observatory State Park is an educational facility acquired by the state of Washington in 1980, after being operated by the Goldendale Observatory Corporation since 1973.
A winding road climbs 2,100 feet to reach the five-acre park that overlooks an oak tree forest, about 1.5 miles north of Goldendale's Main Street. There is a small picnic area at the site, as well as the interpretive center, amphitheater and the observatory. The observatory averages about 40,000 visitors a year from across the world.
It also houses one of the nation's largest public telescopes, featuring a 24-inch Cassegrain reflecting telescope, where star gazers can view the universe, Schults said.
In 1979, the observatory served as the official headquarters for the National Astronomical League during the solar eclipse in February that year.
In 2010, the observatory was deemed a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.
Stout is a little worried cloudy weather may dampen the viewing of the Venus transit, but he's maintaining a positive outlook.
"The weather has been so unpredictable lately," he said. "But I'm praying for clear skies on June 5."
SEE IT AT LIGO
The LIGO Hanford Observatory and Moore Observatory at Columbia Basin College will offer viewings of the Venus transit Tuesday.
LIGO's event will start at 3 p.m at the observatory on Horn Road off Highway 240 west of Richland.
The Tri-City Astronomy Club will be on site with solar telescopes. The next time this event happens is 2117.
The club also will have hands-on activities for kids, including how to build an indirect solar viewer.
Whitman College astronomy professor Andrea Dobson will give a talk at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. titled, "Venus Transits and the Measure of the Cosmos."
There is no admission fee. For more information or driving directions to the LIGO observatory, call 372-8181 or go to www.ligo-wa.caltech.edu.
Columbia Basin College's Moore Observatory will hold its Venus event between 2:30 p.m. to sundown Tuesday.
Staff at the observatory will help visitors view the transit safely with the use of special glasses and telescopes.
There is no admission fee.