AAS 200th meeting, Albuquerque, NM, June 2002
Session 12. Planets and Comets
Display, Monday, June 3, 2002, 9:20am-6:30pm, SW Exhibit Hall

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[12.01] Transit of Venus--2004: A Cosmic Opportunity

K. E. Kissell (University of Maryland and Kissell Associates), R. M. Genet (The Union Institute and University and Orion Institute)

History: Johann Kepler, discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, predicted future planetary positions and found that Venus would transit the solar disc in 1631. Kepler died in 1630, but two British amateurs briefly observed the later 1639 transit. Since 1639, transits of Venus were observed during only four subsequent opportunities. Venus’ atmosphere was first detected in the transit of 1761. In 1882 some five US observers tried to detect spectral features in the Cytherian atmosphere without success. Some 5 billion people might see the next 6-hour long transit on 8 June 2004, since it will be visible across most of Asia, Europe, and North America.

Science: NASA is designing a spacecraft (the KEPLER project) which may locate dozens or even hundreds of transiting extra-solar planets, some which might have atmospheres and could harbor life. The development of techniques to detect and analyze their atmospheres is not a part of the KEPLER project itself, however, only their discovery. While observations of Venus during the two upcoming transits may not yield new understanding of our neighboring planet per se, such observations could be an ideal “data base” to evaluate, and calibrate future spectroscopic techniques for the detection of life-supporting atomic and molecular gases in a transiting extra-solar planet’s atmosphere. Observations of nearby Venus could be “scaled down” to simulate likely future extra-solar transit observations. Such “baseline” data might come from existing solar observatories in Siberia, the Canary Islands, and Europe, and from the SOHO and TRACE spacecraft. SOHO, or some future L2-orbiting spacecraft, might be able to provide data in the more frequent inferior conjunctions of Venus since its halo-orbit line-of-sight to the sun extends much beyond Earth’s small diameter. Our paper is intended to stimulate action to prepare for likely extra-solar transit observations by taking advantage of this only-twice-per-century opportunity.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: kkissell@physics.umd.edu or russmgenet@aol.com

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 34
© 2002. The American Astronomical Soceity.