On Tuesday, June 5, the Occoquan Town Council will hold its regular monthly council meeting. This time, however, it may in fact be a very special meeting, for the Town Council on that date will convene outdoors in an area provided by Vulcan Materials, just across the Occoquan River in Fairfax County. The purpose of the meeting outdoors is to give Town residents and other participants an opportunity to witness the rare astronomical occurrence known as a transit of Venus, part of which will occur as the council meeting is taking place.
Transits of Venus—when the planet Venus appears to cross the disk of the Sun—are rare events that occur roughly once a century in pairs eight years apart. The most recent transit occurred in 2004, and this will be the last one visible in the lifetime of anyone now living. Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta proposed the idea to the Occoquan Town Council about a month ago, after realizing that part of the transit would possibly be visible in our area. Council members and staff responded positively to the idea of an outdoor meeting to coincide with the event.
Porta is an amateur astronomer who often travels to see solar eclipses and other astronomical events; he viewed the complete 2004 transit of Venus in Egypt, and would have travelled to see this one but for the fact that it falls on the date of a Town Council meeting. It was the date conflict that led Porta to start investigating alternatives, at which point he learned that a portion of the transit may be visible here from around 6:00 p.m. until the Sun sets after 8:00 on June 5. Both Vulcan Materials and Fairfax Water were amenable to using areas of high ground on their property—necessary because a clear view of the horizon is needed to witness the transit in the Eastern United States.
The plan is for Porta to set up his 8” SCT telescope, which is equipped with solar filters to view the Sun, so that people can view the transit from 6:00 p.m. until the Sun sets. While Porta will assist at the start, at 7:00 p.m. the Town Council meeting will begin at tables and chairs set up outside near the scope; members of the public will continue to be able to use Porta’s telescope to view the transit while the meeting takes place.
“I have been very fortunate over the years to work with Town Council members and staff who are both flexible and gracious,” said Porta. “They reacted enthusiastically to this idea when it was proposed as a relatively unique community event that we could host.”
Porta says that everyone who is interested is welcome to attend and that more information on the actual location of the viewing, parking, etc., will be available online at the Town web site (www.occoquan.org). He cautions, however, that everything is weather dependent. If rain is likely, the Town Council meeting will be held at its regular location in Town Hall.
“Even if it doesn’t rain,” Porta said. “it’s still a bit of a crap shoot. We’ll need a clear view of the horizon to see the transit, and in June there is often cloud build-up on the horizon at the end of the day. Hopefully, though, we will have clear skies. And even if we don’t get to see the transit, perhaps folks will otherwise enjoy an outdoor meeting.”
There is a great deal of information on the internet about transits of Venus, including a host of images. A popular and comprehensive site may be found at www.transitofvenus.org.