BUFFALO, N.Y. – The chatter began the moment the sun rose above the horizon, the planet Venus visible like a lone freckle on its face.
"I can see it!"
"It's so small."
"See it? The little dot."
Nancy Dlugosz normally sleeps through sunrise, but said Tuesday's was worth getting up for. For the first time in 122 years, Venus (search) was visible as it moved across the sun in a celestial event known as a transit of Venus.
"I'm 57 and I don't know if I'm going to be around for the next one. What if something happens and I don't get to see it?" said Dlugosz, who made her way to the roof of the Buffalo Museum of Science (search) about 5 a.m. "Then I'll have missed it."
About three dozen members of the Buffalo Astronomical Association camped out overnight on the museum roof, after spending hours setting up their big telescopes, cameras and video-recording equipment for the event that generated excitement around the world.
Association member Dan Marcus drove hundreds of miles in search of clear skies for a Mercury transit several years back, winding up at the edge of a farmer's field outside St. Louis. After finishing a shift at American Axle at midnight Tuesday, Marcus had only to make his way to the museum for a clear night of stargazing.
"It's very similar [to Mercury] but Venus is quite a bit larger," he said.
While serious stargazers used powerful, filter-equipped telescopes to view the phenomenon, others relied on paper filtering goggles available with pastries and coffee at the door. In the first moments of the sunrise, Venus was visible to the naked eye.
"We're coming to see something that nobody alive has ever seen before," said Alan Friedman, a greeting card publisher and Buffalo Astronomical Association member who'd spent the night on the roof and planned to head to the office later Tuesday.
Pat Glendenning came prepared with two sets of filter-equipped rubber goggles she had picked up at a welding supply store, one for herself, the other for her 12-year-old granddaughter, Heather Glendenning. The two settled into a spot on the roof and sipped hot chocolate while waiting for sunrise.
Getting up at 4 a.m. was "weird," Heather said, but worth it. "It's so exciting and its like a one-time event."
Such transits occur twice — eight years apart — about every century. The next one will be June 6, 2012.