Image: Preparing for eclipse
Park rangers prepare for viewing the transit of Venus from Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands are prime territory for seeing the last-in-a-lifetime event, but it's important to use eye protection when gazing at the sight.
By Contributor
updated 6/2/2012 6:24:55 PM ET 2012-06-02T22:24:55

When Venus interposes itself directly between Earth and the sun for the last time in more than a century, national parks across America will be prepared to observe the historic event. Many will have special filtered telescopes set up for safe viewing of the sun, while rangers stand by to answer questions.

Every national park in the United States should be able to view the transit of Venus, either completely or in part, in the hours leading up to sunset on Tuesday.

Graphic: All about the transit of Venus

The duration of the transit varies depending on how long before sunset it begins in a particular location. The eastern United States only has two prime hours to view Venus' rare trip before the sun goes down, while Hawaii and Alaska are primed to watch the entire 6.5-hour crossing.

Of course, you should never look directly at the sun, or stare at it through an unprotected telescope or camera. Many parks will have solar glasses available to allow visitors to safely observe the transit, and their telescopes will be specially outfitted with solar filters.

Where you can watch
At Great Basin National Park in Nevada, viewers will have about five hours to observe the rare astronomical event. And its wide expanse should provide excellent viewing opportunities.

"Other than the mountains to the west, you can see open sky — an amazing amount of sky," park employee Kevin Loscheider told OurAmazingPlanet.

He pointed out that the park tends to have good weather as well.

Great Basin will have talks about the transit of Venus starting at 2:30 p.m. PT. Several telescopes with the necessary solar filters will be set up at the visitor's center. The transit itself will begin around 3 p.m. PT and last until the sun sinks behind the mountains.

At the Grand Canyon, visitors will find a similar setup. Images of the transit will be projected onto laptops. Telescopes will be set up around the park so viewers can observe the transit from various points.

Haleakala National Park in Hawaii will be able to view the entire event from its summit. Filtered telescopes will be available to the public.

Once in a lifetime
The transit of Venus is a rare event that has only occurred 53 times since 2000 B.C. While Venus' orbital path takes it between the sun and the Earth roughly every year and a half, the planes of the two planets don't always line up. As such, sometimes Venus passes above the sun, and sometimes it dips below it, from Earth's perspective.

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Observers could see the phenomenon in 2004, but after this month's transit, the next crossing won't occur until December 2117, making this a last-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity.

Those safely watching the event with solar-filter glasses will see a small, black dot moving across the sun. Using binoculars or a telescope that's been outfitted properly will enhance the view. Another option is to use a pinhole projector to watch the transit indirectly.

Loscheider expressed a hope that visitors who want to observe the transit from the Great Basin's grand expanse will stick around to see some of the parks other, earthly wonders. [8 Amazing National Park Structures]

"There's a lot of interesting things here: Nevada's only glacier, the [bristlestone] pine groves," he said. "A lot more to see than just the transit."

View the National Park Service's site on the transit of Venus for more information.

Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanetand on Facebook.

© 2012 OurAmazingPlanet. All rights reserved. More from OurAmazingPlanet.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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