More than 1,000 astronomy enthusiasts thronged the Chabot Space and Science Center on Tuesday to see the Transit of Venus, a once-in-a-lifetime event that won't come again until 2117.
"It's really, really cool," said Emily Schweizer, 10. "It's a little dot crossing the sun, except that the dot happens to be Venus."
She got to skip school to witness the event, said her dad, David Schweizer, 49. "I couldn't imagine what they could be doing in school today that would be more educational."
The lines to look through Chabot's three large telescopes snaked through the plaza behind the observatory, a testament to the desire to experience events physically, not just see them on TV, said Alexander Zwissler, the center's executive director. "We've been telling people that there's a nice room downstairs where they could watch it all comfortably on-screen, but they want to be here, outside in the wind, eye to eyepiece."
Neurosurgeon Larry Dickinson was on trauma call at Eden Medical Center just down the road but walked over to be a part of it all.
"You see the bigger picture" when you look through the telescope at the heavens, he said. "You don't get so stressed out by living when you realize that we're just this little speck in space."
Chabot astronomer Conrad Jung had his telescope hooked to his camera, snapping shots of the transit as Venus moved across the disk of the sun.
"This is one of the rarest astronomical events for any person to see," he said. "No one alive today will see the next Transit of Venus."
For Kai Teigen, 7, of Berkeley, the whole thing was simple.
"I saw a little black spot in a big white circle," he said after taking his turn at a telescope. "It's Venus."
From the U.S. to South Korea, people around the world turned their attention to the daytime sky on Tuesday, and early Wednesday in Asia, to make sure they caught the rare sight. Many in the eastern part of the U.S., though, found cloudy skies in the way.
While astronomers used the latest technology to document the transit, American astronaut Don Pettit aboard the International Space Station was planning to take photos and post them online.
Terrestrial stargazers were warned to look at the celestial event only with a properly filtered telescope or cardboard eclipse glasses. Looking directly at the sun could cause permanent eye damage.
In Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory rolled out the red carpet for Venus. The last time the city witnessed a Venus transit was 130 years ago in 1882. A 2004 transit was not visible from the western U.S.
Telescopes with special filters were set up next to the lawn and people took turns peering at the sun.
Minutes before Venus first touched the outer edge of the sun, Sousa's Transit Of Venus March blared. The crowd turned skyward. For nearly 18 minutes, Venus appeared as a black spot.
Jamie Jetton took the day off from work to take her two nephews, 6 and 11, visiting from Arizona to the observatory. Sporting eclipse glasses, it took a little while before they spotted Venus.
"I'm still having fun. It's an experience. It's something we'll talk about for the rest of our lives," she said.
Venus, which is extremely hot, is one of Earth's two neighbors and is so close in size to our planet that scientists at times call them near-twins.