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Rare look at transit of Venus seen at UND observatory

Rachel Shepard of Los Angeles reacts to seeing the Venus Transit Tuesday at the UND Observatory west of Grand Forks. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

The rarest planetary occurrence was observed Tuesday, and many caught a glimpse of it as UND showed off its observatory southwest of Grand Forks.

The transit of Venus takes place every 105 years when Venus aligns between the sun and Earth for about seven hours. The UND astronomy team opened the observatory to the public from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. to view the event, providing solar telescopes and special glasses.

"It's a good way to get people involved and see something that is new," said Paul Hardersen, associate professor in the Department of Space Studies. "It's about getting them interested in what's going on at UND and get people interested in space."

The transit comes in pairs, eight years apart. With the first of the recent two in June 2004, the next transits will not be until Dec. 11, 2117; followed by Dec. 8, 2125.

Attendance Tuesday at the observatory 10 miles outside of Grand Forks was better than expected.

Students and faculty from the department provided tours of the observatory and answered questions about the various telescopes.

"We want to get people to understand we are here, active and growing," Hardersen said. "It's not as different as some stuff is, it's very cool stuff."

Rachel Benson, of Grand Forks, took her sons Sam, 7, and Andrew, 4, because she thought it would be fun and educational.

"Thought we would see if it was something that would interest them," she said. "I'm not sure if it did."

Sam said the observatory was fun, however, the idea that the telescopes can be accessed by the Internet was the highlight of his trip.

Jacob Zilka, of Grand Forks, just "wanted to see through them," he said.

The five-year-old spent the afternoon with his mom, Kristin Zilka, and two siblings.

Kristin Zilka said her children had never heard of the observatory or transit, so she wanted them to check it out.

But as the observatory filled kids' minds of space, the event brought back memories for others.

Wayne Skramstad, of Grand Forks, said he needed to get out of the house and was glad to see the transit, despite the cloudy skies. The retired civil engineer said he always looked at the stars while growing up on the farm, longing to go into space.

"As kids, we were always interested in space and going and discovering places nobody has been before," he said.

But while Skramstad enjoyed the observatory and view, others around the world were not so lucky.

That's because Venus' movement was not visible to eastern parts of Africa and western South America.