Venus Transit June 2012

I decided to take a day of vacation from work yesterday. Even though the Transit of Venus wouldn’t start until shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, I didn’t want to miss any of it, especially the beginning.  I wiled away the day reading, baking bread and making strawberry shortcake.  I also tested the scope (but not the camera) around noon, getting a clear picture in my mind of the current configuration of our nearest stellar neighor. 

As the clock approached four in the afternoon, I laid out all my equipment, sunscreen, sunglasses, umbrella and collapsable chair, making sure I had everything I would need for an observing session that would last several hours on a slightly warmer than normal and sunny June afternoon.  My prayers had been answered in part, at least, for clear skies (releatively clear, except for some humidity, haziness and wispy stratus clouds).  I proved to be my own worst enemy, though, because while washing my hair, I managed to get an entire palmful of shampoo in my right eye, which happens to be my ‘good’ eye – the one I use to focus and observe with.  My eye watered for the rest of the day, but at least didn’t appear to have any problems focusing. 

Observing Venus Transit from Lansing, Kansas
Observing Venus Transit from Lansing, Kansas

I packed everything in the car and had my husband drive me to my previously selected observing spot. It’s my new favorite location for observing and photographing day-time astronomical events that require an unobstructed view of the western horizon (and it’s close to home so I don’t spend time and gas money to get there). In the last few weeks from this spot, I’ve observed a solar eclipse, earthshine on the moon (with Venus nearby), a lunar eclipse and yesterday my first (and only) Venus transit.  I unpacked the equipment, said goodbye to my husband (who would return later to catch a glimpse of the ‘black dot’ that would be Venus crossing the sun) and started setting up the scope.  My dad joined me, sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m., as he got tied up with rush hour traffic on US-73 southbound from north Leavenworth to south Lansing. 

I had parked the scope when I used it around noon, leaving it in a polar mount configuration.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to re-align it to Polaris when I transported it from my backyard to this other site, but I could get ‘in the ballpark’ enough to track the sun and take photographs.  The most challenging aspect of taking photographs through the Meade ETX-90 with the Pentax K100D attached to it is focusing.  The viewfinder on the camera presents a very small ‘live’ view of the object (in this case the filtered image of the sun).  The sunspots, which appeared very large and distinct when observing through the telescopes eyepiece under magnification, were tiny pinpricks through the camera.  Focusing became easier once the large black dot of Venus appeared, but before that, resolving the sunspots proved troublesome.  With that in mind, here’s a photo from immediately prior to the transit of Venus commencing:

Sun immediately prior to Transit of Venus (5:04 pm Central) – click image to see the rest of the album (39 photos)

I choose this location also in the hopes that people would see me on the hill overlooking Main Street and stop by to have a look (or at least ask me what the heck I thought I was doing so I could then explain and convince them to take a look).  Over the course of the next three hours, I had between fifteen and twenty people stop and take a look at the transit through my telescope.  The first group to stop had seen me there before, back in May for the solar eclipse.  I asked them to wait a couple of minutes because I was taking a serious of photographs to capture the first and second contacts of Venus:

Cropped series of photos taken of the first and second contacts of Venus (spanning time from 5:05 to 5:23 pm Central) – click image to see slideshow

One of the last group included an entire family who had seen me on their way to a baseball game (for their young son) and stopped on the way back after the game.  They pursuaded their grandmother to leave the car and take a look.  By that time though, the sun had entered some thicker clouds and was close to setting, so the light getting through the solar filter created a dim red hazy image, but Venus’ black sillouette was still clearly visible. 

Sun setting, but the black dot of Venus clearly visible to my naked eye through the 200 mm telephoto lens of my camera

After the sun set, Dad and I packed up the equipment and said our goodbyes. We were both tired, from standing, sometimes bending over, occasionally sitting, but always baking in the late afternoon June sun. I went home, ate some leftovers, grabbed 140 photos off my cameras memory card and selected one or two to upload and share with friends and family. I didn’t have the energy last night to review so many photos.  I called my daughter, who lives in Texas, to see if she had a chance to witness the transit.  She reported she did, as her university setup several scopes near their Environment Sciences lab building and she got to see the sun through a hydrogen-alpha filter (which I am saving up for as they are not cheap).  I also tuned in to NASA’s live feed both on my laptop and via DirecTV (channel 289) for a few minutes before succumbing to my need for sleep. 

First thing this morning when I awoke, I began sifting through the photos and settled on thirty-nine good shots to upload and share.  I discovered, though, that I have some debris on my camera mirror and will need to have it cleaned.  See if you can find the debris that looks like a sunspot but travels around the surface of the sun (but not the frame of the picture). 

Later this week, I will attempt to qualify for an observing certificate from NASA using the Paralax Activity Method #1 (I can’t do the other two because I only witnessed about half of the transit before the sun set).  But first I’ll read and review the Mathematics of the Transit of Venus to make sure my aging brain remembers college math.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to witness the Transit of Venus. I sincerely hope you took advantage to sneak a peak.  Only our grandkids (or great-grandkids) will see the next one, in 2117.

Transist of Venus FAQ

One week from this Tuesday, at exactly 5:09 p.m. Central, Venus will begin it’s transit across the sun.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime observation opportunity and it is visible to nearly the entire world, so there really isn’t any excuse to miss it.  I checked the ten day weather forecast and as of Sunday, May 27th, the predicted whether looks favorable for the Kansas City area.

I will have my telescope (with appropriate eye-saving solar filters applied) setup in Lansing, Kansas, probably by 4:00 pm on Tuesday, June 5th.  Post a comment if you would like to join me.

Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC)Three other locations around the Kansas City area will be hosted by the ASKC (see bottom of post for more information).

The following information was compiled by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC):

Transit of Venus FAQ

What is the transit of Venus?

Once in a great while, Venus can pass directly between the Sun and Earth. Only the planets Mercury and Venus can do this, since they are the only two planets closer to the Sun than Earth. When they do, they appear as small black dots crossing the face of the Sun over a period of several hours.

When is the transit of Venus?

From the Kansas City area, it will begin at 5:09 PM CDT on Tuesday, June 5th, and continue until sunset, which will be around 8:41 PM. Weather permitting, we will see 53% of the entire transit before sunset.

Why is the transit of Venus such a special event?

Because of the size and slightly different tilt of the orbits of Venus and Earth, a transit does not happen every time Venus passes between the Sun and Earth; it’s almost always “above” or “below” the Sun when it reaches what is called inferior conjunction. In a 243-year cycle, there are only 4 transits. They occur at very uneven intervals – the last one was in June of 2004, but the next one isn’t until December of 2117, 105 ½ years from now!

Historically, timings of transits of Venus were carried out in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to trigonometrically calculate the size of the orbit of Venus, which when applied to Kepler’s 3rd law of planetary motion, determined the absolute (rather than relative) size of every other orbit in the Solar System. This was actually the best way to measure distances in the Solar System until radar and space probes became available in the latter half of the 20th century.

How can I observe the transit of Venus?

You can make a pinhole projector with a couple of pieces of card stock or a small cardboard box; just poke a small hole in one of the pieces or one end of the box, and position it such that it casts a small image of the Sun on the other piece or the other end of the box.

It will be a lot easier to see, though, through a suitable filter, either with your unaided eye or binoculars or a telescope completely covered by a full-aperture filter. Safe filters are available at HMS Beagle, a science store at English Landing in Parkville.

Where will there be organized viewing of the transit of Venus?

There will be at least 3 organized events in the Kansas City area:

  1. The Astronomical Society of Kansas City will open Powell Observatory in Louisburg. A map and directions are at
  2. The ASKC will also open Warkoczewski Observatory at UMKC, on the roof of Royall Hall. Park on the 4th level of the parking structure on the southwest corner of 52nd & Rockhill and take the skywalk into Royall, then up 2 flights of stairs to the roof.
  3. Kansas Citizens for Science, with assistance from ASKC members, will host observing from the rooftop of Coach’s Bar & Grill, 9089 W. 135th, Overland Park.