Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Transit of Venus

John and I wanted to view the transit of Venus yesterday. We had missed it in 2004 and there's not going to be another one until 2117. (Why isn't it regular? I don't know why. Go ask an astronomer. This town is lousy with astronomers.)

When Venus transits the sun you can almost see it with the naked eye, except as we all know you're not supposed to look at the sun. John and I were trying to remember how as kids we had made solar eclipse viewers. We agreed that cardboard boxes were the main component. John said you had to cut a hole somewhere in the box. I thought there was tin foil involved but couldn't remember in what capacity. And sticks. Weren't there sticks? You propped your box on sticks and angled it toward the sun, and you laid on your stomach on the grass and looked into the box. Am I close?

Just in time, the Facebook invitation appeared. Susan Kitchens would be holding a Transit of Venus Viewing at Peck Road Park in El Monte--with her telescope--her specially outfitted telescope--through which we could look at the sun.

It was just as thrilling as I'd hoped it would be to watch through Susan's telescope as the small, black spot appeared at the edge of the large, yellow spot. Venus took its sweet time and crossed the sun like a round, black ship sailing a round ocean of fire inside the round lens. Then Susan pulled out the solar viewing glasses and I put them on.

You can't see a thing with those glasses on until you look up, directly at the sun.

I have never looked directly at the sun before, not for more than a fraction of a second. Through those little scientific miracles I watched the event itself, breathless, with not even a telescope to separate me from it.

Venus, the sun, the sky, the air, the ground, me.


Susan Kitchens said...

You have a single photo on your page. All the difficulty of which photos to post gets whittled down to The One. Me? I've got a bizillion, including the ones I took with my camera through the telescope.

So hard to whittle down, and what to say when posting a bizillion of them on my blog?

Okay, enough blog-photo-editing process. Let's go back to how simply! awesome! the whole experience was.

So glad you two could make it. Sometime later, we'll have Saturn!!

dive said...

Up all night with the crew from the Observatory, lugging vans full of telescopes, cameras and computers down to England's easternmost point to catch the last couple of hours of the transit at 4:30 this morning …

Cloudy …
Welcome to Astronomy in England. Looks like I'm going to have to stay alive for another 113 years to catch the next one.

Anonymous said...

Solid cloud.

Dina said...

"A ship sailing a round ocean of fire" -- it sounds like something right out of mythology.

Your photo lets us see the viewing excitement.
My instruction manual says never to point my little camera directly at the sun, that it can damage the camera. Is that true?

Adele said...

Your description was poetic and perfect. I missed the whole thing, so thanks for making me feel like I was there. And thanks for bringing back the happy memories of childhood eclipses.

Jean Spitzer said...

"Venus, the sun, the sky, the air, the ground, me." Beautifully said.

Petrea Burchard said...

Go look at Susan's pictures (her name is the link). They show how much fun we had. Susan, this man's moment of thrill reflected what I felt. He forgot us all. He forgot his kids, he even forgot himself.

Dive, so sorry. I know how you wanted to see it.

Same to you, JB. In the grand scheme of things, Mainz is not far from Norwich and probably under the same clouds.

Dina, I don't know about your camera but I'd say follow instructions. Yes, it was like myth. We stood on a little promontory and wondered at it. The difference was we weren't afraid.

Adele, I'm sorry you missed it. We had excellent conditions for viewing.

Jean, thanks. I wanted to convey the feeling. First I tried all sorts of big, flowery words!

TheChieftess said...

I have to admit...I didn't even know it was going on!!!
But I do remember those cardboard boxes with a pinhole in it!!!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'm headed to Susan's blog now

Bellis said...

Your description of the little blob's movement is beautiful. Me, I'm more prosaic. It reminded me of the mole on Cindy Crawford's face. Same size. I'd have enjoyed watching it in Peck Road Park with you guys, but astronomy friends had planned their Hawaiian beach wedding to coincide with the transit, so that's where we were. My husband gave a talk explaining the transit and why it happens at such odd intervals, but I still found it beyond my mental powers to understand fully. You have to admire those mathematical geniuses who could work it out in 1600. It was sunny and cloudy and sunny again, but the transit took ages and there were plenty of chances to see it. Couldn't see Venus through the eclipse glasses, though. Good thing yesterday was sunny, as it's pouring with rain here today. The center of Kauai is the wettest place on earth.

Petrea Burchard said...

Chieftess: no foil? I guess the foil was something else.

PA, you'll enjoy her pics.

Bellis, I'm sorry you had to suffer the transit on a Hawaiian beach with a bunch of astronomers.

John Sandel said...

One of those moments when myth (imagination) & cosmos (fact) collide. We have watched the skies immemorially, yet—if we consider how vast & uncaring is the sky—our hackles rise like the tongues of flame 'round the sun's rim.

It occurred to me, watching, yesterday: That black dot is my evening star. I have wooed under that star's guidelight; this must be its other face, turned away to pass the sun so.

And: We gawk & gape, but this is all Venus ever does—go 'round the sun. The stars have no meaning, but only motion. What seems rare to us—the streak of a comet, the eclipse of a moon—is business so usual as to be mundane.

It's our little lives which transit. We are the miracles, so fleeting. I went on a trip to see Venus fly by, but I'd go around the world to see my wife cross a room.

Susan Kitchens said...

Petrea-- indeedie, that thrill, that thrall. Glad you elaborated on it.

What I found inspiring about your image, as I (incoherently & rapidly) mentioned in the first comment, was how a single image could sum up the whole thing.

Thank you. I'm glad your post went live and I saw it as I began my photo editing & posting (which I did from, like 11:30 - 3:30 am or so). It helped me cull, and definitely inspired the photo composite of you and everyone with the glasses.

Petrea and John: Loving the word and thought-crafting in response. The Evening Star.

I remember a recent night (last week?), driving west just at dusk and seeing the bright light of Venus low in the sky and thinking, WOW, how'd it get that low that fast? Is that Venus? really? She's been high in the sky all year. Maybe it's Jupiter? Then: Oh yeah, HAS to be Venus. Can't transit the sun if she's still that high in the sky. Guess she's moving faster now or something. (Abstract 3D visualization of planetary mechanics from a remove of 1 astronomical unit isn't my strong point.)

Here's the link to my page, sans the extra comment stuff at the end

Petrea Burchard said...

Susan, as much as I love my camera I could not have taken photographs of the celestial event. Yours are wonderful.

I think the man in my photo felt what I felt. His kids were clamoring for the spectacles, he was surrounded by people he didn't know, and for a moment he left it all behind to be at one with his solar system.

JS, you are the wordcrafter to write the story of my heart. Aren't I lucky that you only have to take a few steps?

I thought it was fascinating when Doc M, our astronomer of the day, made it clear that celestial transits happen constantly. Of course! It's what heavenly bodies do. Transits only seem remarkable if you happen to be in a position to witness them.

Susan Campisi said...

I was at work and caught a glimpse of Venus' transit on my computer screen. Much less poetic than your experience. Thank you for the vicarious thrill of witnessing the real deal. The comments today are fabulous. Bellis, you crack me up!

Off to check out Susan's blog.

Ms M said...

What a wonderful experience -- and how well you wrote about it! And John's reply....

It was cloudy, rainy here, so we had to resort to live streaming via computer. Which was not bad at all, and much better than not being able to witness it.

Petrea Burchard said...

Not bad at all to watch it on a computer screen. Amazing, really, when you think about it.

monnica said...

This is such a great picture, Petrea! It was so good to read your description. When I heard about it on the news last night, I thought about how cool it would have been to see it. Hope you are doing well!

Dina said...

But now that science has taken away the fear from such celestial events, let's try hard to retain our awe of them.

Petrea Burchard said...

Hi Monnica, nice to see you! We were lucky to see so much of it here in southern California.

Dina, awe is exactly what I felt.

Margaret said...

Well, that sure sounds fun. I missed this one. Alas.

Irina said...

Sounds like a real space adventure. It was always clouds here on planets negotiations days, all my life! I felt so disappointed.