Rusty Nance only breaks out his large 10-inch telescope for big celestial events these days.
Tuesday qualified as one of them.
He was one of 30 stargazers who came to Lake Sacajawea to watch the last-in-a-lifetime transit of Venus, in which the solar system's second planet appeared to cross the face of the sun.
Nance, 45, of Longview, drove to Medford, Ore. to see a solar eclipse a couple weeks ago and traveled to Greece in 2006 to see another eclipse. Rated by its visual power, Tuesday's transit of Venus didn't top the 2006 solar eclipse, Nance said. However, he considers the transit one of the best cosmic events he's witnessed.
"It's pretty high up there," said the Longview Timber computer system technician. "It doesn't look spectacular, but it's very rare."
Through a telescope equipped to protect eyesite from the blazing light, Venus appeared as a small black dot against the face of the much larger solar disk.
Transits of Venus occur in pairs that are eight years apart and then don't repeat again for more than a century, according to NASA. The first in this pair occurred in 2004. Previously, the last pair occurred in 1874 and 1882; and the next pair won't occur until 2117 and 2125.
The event could be seen across much of the earth, except for western Africa, southeastern South America, Portugal and parts of Spain.
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A drizzly, dreary morning gave way to unexpected sunny skies and delighted members of a local astronomy club who had organized a public viewing with the proper optical equipment to safely watch the spectacle.
"I didn't think we'd be able to have a star party looking at the last couple days," said Chuck Ring, a member of the local Friends of Galileo Astronomy Club.
Benji Cornelius, 22, and Sam Oakley, 20, were walking through the park and wondered why there were so many people gazing upward through telescopes, binoculars and protective eye glasses. They each got a peek at the transit.
"I don't think many people can say they saw Venus cross the sun in their lifetime," Oakley said. "But I can."
"It's breathtaking," Cornelius said. "Just the fact that you can see the whole planet of Venus, and it's so tiny. You can see something like this in the classroom, but to actually see it is completely different. ... We witnessed history today."
Elsie Freerks of Longview brought her granddaughter Ava Page, 8, to the park right after school to make sure the two got a good look at the sun.
"It's like a orange moon. It was pretty cool," Ava said. "It's not better than Disneyland, though."
Video: The Transit of Venus as seen from the Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 5, 2012. Video courtesy of NASA.