The physics department and the college celebrated with the community this rare astronomical event Tuesday afternoon June 5th in the Arboretum.
There were several different types of telescopes on hand for public viewing, reflector and refracting of various size, including several H-alpha types capable of viewing solar flares. There were also astronomy-related activities and physics presentations.
On Tuesday afternoon June 5th 2012, around 3p in southern California, Venus passed in front of the Sun. This "Transit of Venus" took place until just after sunset. It only occurs about every 120 years and will not happen again in our lifetime.
Though today it is of little scientific value, in the eighteenth century the transit was regarded as the single most important scientific observation in history. Johannes Kepler, Edmond Halley, and Isaac Newton all realized that observing the transit of Venus from various locations on Earth would yield the holy grail of astronomy: the determination of the actual distance from the Earth to the Sun, what has become known as the AU (astronomical unit).
Up until that time all the distances from the planets, and their size were all relative values based on the AU. There were no hard values for the size of the solar system and ultimately the distance to the stars. Although none of those great names in science would live long enough to see it for themselves, they set the stage for a notable chapter in the history of modern astronomy.