Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

June 6th, 2012:

Sic Transit Gloria Veneris…

Sun With Venus 1.jpg

…for another 105 years. By 2117, I’ll be heavily involved in other pursuits and may not be able to watch–but man, did we get a show this time!

Catching any short-lived astronomical phenomenon always involves a strong measure of luck. In 1972, seven friends and I drove 1200 miles to Cap Chat, Quebec, to see a total solar eclipse. We brought out the big guns–my 10″ telescope looks superficially like a big gun, and took a little explaining at customs both coming and going–but alas, two hours before totality the clouds rolled in. We had the novel experience of watching the umbra hurtling toward us by the darkening of the undersides of the high clouds, but of totality we saw nothing.

Luck, yeah. While planning for the event I noticed that my sister Gretchen’s back yard has a near-optimum line-of-sight to the place on the NW horizon where the Sun would set on June 5, 2012. Her lot fronts on a large open space running roughly E-W, with high-tension lines and their towers the only significant obstruction. Given that my western horizon is a 9,800 foot mountain and I see granite up to about 35 degrees, Gretchen’s back yard seemed flukily ideal.

Transit Setup-500 Wide.jpg

So there we chose our ground. (Without hawks but with hounds–sort of–and elves be damned.) The instrument was my Bausch & Lomb Criterion 4000 suitcase scope, which has gone on a number of expeditions with us, including two total solar eclipses and Halley’s Comet in 1986. The technique was what I generally do for solar observing: project an image on a piece of foamcore supported by a separate tripod. The image at the top of this entry was a shot of the foamcore, taken with an ordinary and slightly ancient Kodak V530 pocket camera.

I logged first contact at 5:05 PM. Second contact (when the trailing edge of the disk of Venus enters the disk of the Sun) came at 5:22 PM. After that it was the long slow crawl of Venus downward (on the foamcore) as the Sun slowly set in the northwest. Gretchen’s girls thought it was interesting, and before the transit I showed them how the telescope brings in a magnified but inverted image of things far away, like a 55-gallon trashcan across the open space. I’m sure they didn’t completely understand what was going on, but as with all Uncle Jeff tricks they did consider it a lot of fun.

The weather was nothing short of astonishing: high 60s F, light breeze, crystal blue skies down to the horizon. So it had been the whole day, and so it stayed every minute until the Sun vanished behind some trees at 8:03 PM. I got a lot of good photos, considering that the photos were of an image projected on cardboard. Toward the end of visibility, the scope was directed square across the approach to O’Hare Field, and five, count ’em, five jet aircraft crossed the disk of the Sun while we watched. The exhaust from the engines, though invisible directly, distorted the solar image in an interesting way.

Fifteen minutes before the Sun vanished, it passed behind one of the high-tension towers across the open space, allowing me to fiddle the focus a little and get some remarkable shots, like the one below:

Sun Behind Tower.jpg

Gretchen made one of her trademark pot roast feasts, with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes almost the color of the solar disk. (A dollop of real butter yellowed ’em up gorgeously.) Dash and QBit ran around in circles, chased balls, and slept like rocks last night. As did we all.

Success just don’t get any more successful than that.