Venus Transit

Here is the sun just before Venus made first contact. You can easily see several prominent sun sports. It was very difficult to get everything in focus with my setup. A little practice before the big event certainly would have been helpful.

So, I was originally going to make this into one big post and combine it with the post I’m working on about the new telescope, but I decided (you can thank me when you see me) to separate it into two shorter posts. I’ll keep this one pretty short on text and try to get to the pictures as quickly as possible.

As many of you probably know, much of the world was treated to a rather rare astronomical event on the 5th or 6th of June (depending on your location relative to the international Date Line). In North America, the big show was on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. I hadn’t really been planning anything special for the Venus transit; however, when I decided to get a new telescope, it seemed like a good opportunity to test out the scope and have a little fun. Of course, it meant I needed a solar filter for the scope and a reasonable mount. Both of those are going to be discussed in greater detail in the other telescope blog post currently in the offing, so I’ll just say that I was very glad when the actual filter material arrived by Priority Mail on Monday, approximately 24 hours in advance of first contact.

This image is just after first contact. If you look closely, you should be able to make out the small crescent-shaped shadow from Venus in the upper right-hand corner of the Sun.

Here in Colorado, the show was set to start at about 4:00 in the afternoon and last until after sunset. I was trying to decide where to observe from when I learned that some of our friends from Mount Calvary were going to gather for a bit of a watch party at church. Since there were going to be some others to chat with and enjoy the experience, it seemed like as good a place as any. Actually, with a great view to the West and the Flatirons in the background, it’s really a much better view than most.

I decided to take the afternoon off in order to enjoy the event. Barring a series of remarkable medical breakthroughs, it isn’t going to happen again in my lifetime, and even if it does, I’ll be 140! That’s even old for a hobbit. Since we just have 1 car, Jess and I dropped off the gear at church in the morning before work. Jess kept the car, so that left me with limited transportation. Luckily our friend John was free for lunch, so he and I went over to Southern Sun for burgers. From there it was a wee hop over to church. I arrived about an hour before 1st contact (that’s when Venus just begins to cross in front of the sun from our perspective). It was pretty cloudy, so I was feeling a good bit of apprehension about the event, but I got everything setup anyway. As it was getting closer to 4:00, it began to sprinkle lightly. I moved most of the junk inside, but bravely left the scope, camera, and laptop setup outside.

Here is a shot from a little further into the transit. You can see the clouds really had an impact on our ability to see the event; however, on occassion, they added a little visual effect.

After a few minutes of truly ominous weather, the clouds parted nicely just in time for the beginning of the transit. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring the camera into focus with the star diagonal in place, so I had to mount it directly to the focus drawtube. Of course, that means it’s wasn’t at a convenient position, but I’m young enough to crouch in uncomfortable positions for at least a little while. I also found it very difficult to focus the camera through the scope. One of the downsides of modern AF DSLRs like my Nikon is that they don’t come standard with much of a focus assist. I think the diopter adjustment on the viewfinder also threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the works. While the Nikon camera control software I downloaded (free trial, yeah!) was very handy, the laptop screen was too washed out in the bright sunlight to be of much use for focus. As a result, I ended up doing a lot of semi-blind focus bracketing. that was a first for me.

This image was taken just before second contact. you can see that the circular shadow from Venus is almost completely in front of the Sun. Unfortunately a band of clouds moved in just after this photo was taken, and we didn't get a real view of the second contact, but they did part again for some nice views a bit later.

Jess also left work a little early so that she could come over at about 4:00 to catch the exciting beginning of the transit. After peering through the scope for a bit (I did mount the diagonal and eyepiece so that everyone could get some views between patches of clouds), she headed off to Lafayette to pick up miss Phoebe and our picnic dinner. Phoebe really likes picnicking and eating outside, so the two of them brought egg salad sandwiches, chips, and pickles back for a light dinner. After dinner, we continued to check out the progress Venus was making up until the Sun dipped below the mountains. I was hoping to get a cool shot of the Sun against the mountains with Venus visible in the corner, but alas the clouds didn’t cooperate. Regardless, we got a lot of cool pictures and some really good views through the scope despite the clouds coming in and out. We also got to share the event with a number of friends, and saw some really incredible images from the Internet. I hope you all got a chance to enjoy at least some of the show as well.

Here is a shot from much later in the transit. Venus is well on its way across the Sun. You can still see the same sunspots.

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