Today is Astronomy Day!
Today is a day for stargazing and telescope pointing and squinting into eyepieces and being grouchy when clouds get in your way. It's a day for awe at the night sky, and watching others' faces light up under the stars. So today, let's talk some history, some Venus, and some awesome. Pictures galore are below the fold!
Astronomy Day focuses on bringing astronomy to the public. Libraries and local parks put on events where you and you and YOU can go look up at the night sky and feel tiny and insignificant and lucky. You, my skeptical friend, are a collection of carbon in a vast and random universe, and for approximately half of each day, you can look up and see a little slice of the rest of space. If you're particularly lucky (and northern), you could even look up to glimpse some aurora borealis.
The Astronomical League (there is such a thing, and it sounds so cool), determines a date each year, and occastionally a theme (more on that later). Today happpens to be Astronomy Day 2012! Events are happening all around the world, where people who ordinarily wouldn't spend time stargazing, are actually doing it. In fact, you might not even have to wait for it to be dark-check out any solar telescopes in your area to get a glimpse of our very own mass of incandescent gas.
This year's Astronomy Day theme is the Transit of Venus, which will be taking place June 5-6. This means that Venus will be passing in front of our own Sun, and you can see it happen! The last time this occured was back in 2004. Most of the world, except for some unlucky parts of Brazil and Africa will be able to watch it happen–with eye protection. A map of when to look up is here.
The transit of Venus is important in the science-y way because it can be used, with Kepler's third law, to determine the distance of Earth from the Sun.
So you seriously can't make it outside? Harrumph. I guess I'll have to show you some awesome space pictures. Like Astronomy Picture of the Day, where I'm getting all these images. You can spend some time getting lost in the NASA Goddard flickr feed. Listen to Symphony of Science while you do! Or you could look make Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan paper dolls, from Mad Art Lab's very own Cloe. Or you could watch Cosmos for free, and take a tour of Earth from space. There are billions and billions of possiblities!
Featured images via Astronomy Picture of the Day