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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Transit of Venus: your last chance to see it before 2117

Rare journey will help scientists learn more about planets far beyond our solar system.

A small black dot will grace the face of the sun as it rises (over Europe) on Wednesday, when Venus makes a rare and historic journey across the burning disc of our parent star.

Few people alive today will have another chance to witness the transit of Venus, as the laws of orbital mechanics do not bring the planets into position again until December 2117.

In previous centuries, nations dispatched astronomers to their farthest territories to record the transit in progress. In doing so, they embarked on the first global scientific collaboration in history and answered the pressing question of the size of the solar system.

This year's observations from powerful telescopes will help scientists learn more about planets far beyond our solar system, and may even help spot those with atmospheres that are similar to Earth's and capable of harbouring life.

To celebrate the event, national space agencies, universities and amateur astronomers will point telescopes at the sky and trace Venus's seven hours in the sun from 11.04pm on Tuesday until 5.55am BST the next morning. Read More