A transit of Venus occurs when the planet’s body passes in front of the Sun from our viewpoint on Earth.
Only Venus and Mercury can behave in such a way. They are inferior planets, meaning their orbits lie within ours, and are the only planets that can pass between Earth and the Sun.
Venus and Mercury being inferior planets also causes them to appear to swing from one side of the Sun to the other in the sky, which gives rise to Venus’s popular names of the Morning Star and the Evening Star.
Venus Transit 6th June 2012 by Michael Jones, Brisbane, Australia. Equipment: Pentax *ist/DS camera, Skywatcher ED80 telescope, Baader Astrosolar Safety Film filter.
How often does a transit of Venus occur?
Some might think that we would see a transit of Venus on a regular basis, but this is not the case.
Venus’s orbit is tilted by 3.4° with respect to Earth’s, so most of the time when Venus comes between us and the Sun, from our viewpoint it passes well above or below the solar disc.
Observable transits of Venus only take place when specific conditions are met.
Venus has to be at inferior conjunction – the point that it’s closest to Earth and its disc is at its greatest angular size – and the orbital planes of both planets have to cross, which can only happen twice a year, in June and December.
Transits of Venus occur in pairs separated by eight years, but the gap between pairs is alternately 105.5 or 121.5 years.
Transit of Venus by Brian.M.Johnson, Wiveton, North Norfolk, UK. Equipment: Televue 85, Coronado Filter
When was the last Venus transit?
The last (or most recent) transit of Venus visible from Earth occurred on 6 June 2012. It was the second Venus transit of a pair, the first of which took place on 8 June 2004.
You’ll have to live a long time to see the next ones. The next transit of Venus occurs in December 2117, followed by another in December 2125.
What does a transit of Venus look like?
A transit of Venus appears as a relatively small black circle against our star.
The point at which Venus first touches the solar disc is called first contact, and marks the
beginning of the ingress phase.
Second contact occurs when the planet is fully on the disc, and marks the end of ingress.
Venus then crosses the face of the Sun in a matter of hours, after which it reaches the other side of the solar disc, marking third contact and the beginning of the egress phase.
Venus transit on Oblate Sun by Chris.B, Assens, Denmark. Equipment: 90mm f:11 achromatic refractor, solar foil full aperture filter, inexpensive compact camera used afocally with 20mm cheap 20mm PLossl eyepiece. Mounted on a video tripod with pan and tilt head.
Egress (and the transit) ends after fourth contact, when Venus’s trailing edge moves off the solar disc.
For a brief moment we are able to watch the clockwork motions of the planets as they journey around the Sun – and briefly glimpse the remarkable regularity of our Solar System.
We may not get to see another Venus transit in our lifetime, but there’s still plenty observe when Venus is visible in the sky.
Read our guides on photographing the ring of Venus, how to see the green flash of Venus or how to capture a shadow cast by Venus.
Composite of 4 Shots of the Transit of Venus by Rodger King, Palm Cove Beach, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Equipment: Celeston 15×70 binoculars projecting on a white card. Pictures taken with a Canon 400D and a 55mm lens.
Below is a selection of images of the 2004 and 2012 Venus transits captured by BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers and astrophotographers.
For more info on photographing the night sky, read our guide to astrophotography, our tutorial on how to photograph the planets or discover our pick of the best astrophotography cameras.
And while we won’t be expecting any Venus transit images any time soon, don’t forget to send us your images or share them with us via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Pictures of the transit of Venus
The Transit of Venus 2012 by Anthony Morgan, South Wales, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher Mercury707, AZ2 mount, Custom built Solar filter (made with Baader astrosolar safety film), Fuji Finepix Z5 digital camera
Transit of Venus by Gareth Wilkes, Oxford, UK. Equipment: Panasonic Lumix TZ8, Celestron Astromaster 114, Baader solar filter.
Venus Transit by Martin Reeve, Ham Hill, Someset, UK. Equipment: William Optics 80ED, Skywatcher EQ3 mount. Canon video camera
Transit of Venus 2012 by Mick Weaver, Burton Dassett Hills, Warwickshire, UK. Equipment: WO Zenithstar II 80mm Refractor, Olympus Pen EPL2, Baader Solar Filter.
Tear Drop by Chris.B, Denmark. Equipment: 90mm f:11 achromatic refractor, solar foil full aperture filter, inexpensive compact digital camera used afocally with cheap 20mm Plossl eyepiece.
Transit from Texas by Zenon Kowalewski, Corinth, Texas, USA. Equipment: 16×32 Binocular and an old shoe-box. Added blue filter in software.
Transit of Venus in h-alpha by Michael Borman, Evansville, Indiana, USA. Equipment: Televue 102iis refractor, Coronado SM90 h-alpha filter and BF30, Imaging Source DMK41AU02.AS camera, Losmandy G11 mount, .5x focal reducer.
Transit of Venus from a Volcano by Jarrod Bennett, Nossegem, Belgium. Equipment: Canon 450D, 75-300mm zoom lens at 300mm.
Transit in Abu Dhabi by Steve Harvey, Horsham, UK. Equipment: Canon 60D at 400mm, Unfiltered.
Transit of Venus by Andrew Goloskof, Tewkesbury, UK. Equipment: Nikon D70, 80-300mm Nikkor Zoom
Title of Venus of Tom Lee, Malvern Hills, Worcs, UK. Equipment: StarTravel-80T OTA 3.1″ Refractor, Nikon D40, Tripod
Third contact through the clouds by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher ED100 refractor, Nikon D7000 DSLR camera.
Transit of Venus 5th June 2012 by Jim Renck, Anaheim, California, USA. Equipment: Celestron 80 ED, Thousand Oaks Optical solar filter, Celestron Advanced GT mount, Nikon D40
Venus Transit at Victory Tower by Atish Aman, Chittaurgarh, India. Equipment: Carl Zeiss Victory Diascope 85mm, 1000mm focal length, Nikon D90 camera.
Transit of Venus from southern France 6th June 2012 06:38am by Bobdobolina, Southern France. Equipment: 80mm Camlink spotting scope, DMC-LX5, Sheet of A4
Venus Transit from southern France 6th June 2012 06:45am by Bobdobolina, Southern France. Equipment: 80mm Camlink spotting scope, DMC-LX5, Sheet of A4
Venus Transit 06-06-2012 by I Kooren, Brasilien Schönberg, Germany. Equipment: DMK31, Solarmax60S, NEQ6
Venus Transit by Goku Abreu, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Equipment: Nikon D3000 DSLR, Meade LXD75 5″ Refractor, Herschel Wedge Solar Filter, LXD75 Equatioral mount.