Aeromoe's Version of Joe Orman's Naked-Eye 100 List

Number 10: Solar Transit of Venus

Since the transit would begin in the middle of the afternoon and continue through sunset, I wanted a viewing site with a clear western horizon. I also wanted a site fairly close to home and one that my daughter could easily navigate to. The Sunday prior, I decided to check out the cul-de-sac where the parents of my daughter’s boyfriend live. How appropriate a street name, huh?

I timed the visit to coincide with sunset so I could see where on the horizon sunset would occur. It was the perfect location…and my daughter would know just where we’d be.

I’d arranged for some time off work to prepare equipment and arrive at my viewing location about an hour prior to the transit start time of 3:09PM local. Skies were clear and the temp was forecast for the low 100s. A moderate breeze was blowing and that helped keep the temperature fairly comfortable. An EZ-UP sun shade would also help as the sun was still high enough in the sky (53.7 degrees at first contact) to be quite hot.

I set up the EZ-UP sun shade and prepared the Orion 120ST refractor on the Sky View Pro equatorial mount and tripod. I did a set up, a cursory polar alignment, and a 2-star alignment for the Go-To system and found the Sun in the scope with no problem. At this point I had only about 5 minutes until initial contact. Then the problems started. Since I was going to be imaging the transit with my DSLR shooting through the scope at Prime Focus, I would need to keep the Sun centered in the camera’s view screen using the hand controller’s slewing commands. Shortly after alignment, the Sky View Pro Go-To slewing functions ceased operating, so I scrambled to do another set up and 1-star alignment. During the course of observing, I had to repeat this process a couple of times but I continued to have problems with slewing so eventually I resorted to monitoring the camera’s view screen and manually adjusting the telescope to re-center the sun.

I also set up my Orion 6-inch Dobsonian reflector so we could observe through a solar filter and do eyepiece projection of the transit on a white card. A couple hours into observing, I managed to drop the Orion full-aperture solar filter on the grass and it dinged the cell. While trying to fix the ding, I managed to crack the glass filter, rendering it useless for telescope observing. RATS! However, a resident of the neighborhood came to the rescue with some pink duct tape and I covered the crack with two layers of tape on both sides of the glass. At least we would still be able to use this filter for visual observations and see Venus against the sun naked-eye.

The Dobsonian came in real handy for eyepiece projection. The breeze was a bit strong at times so instead of using a tripod to hold the white projection card, we just held it manually. It was really quite amazing to see the disk of the sun projected onto the card with the sunspots and Venus so easily recognizable.

Martin, Carissa and my Dad

Carissa checking it out

Moe and the transit

Carissa, Moe, Brandon checking it out

Jonathan taking a break

Eyepeice Projection

Speaking of naked-eye, Venus was easily discernable against the sun during the transit while using a solar filter (as seen below). However, of the sunspots present, I could not discern any of them naked-eye using the solar filter…they were all just a bit too small.

Jonathan viewing naked eye

Moe seeing Venus transit naked eye

I also had a third telescope set up for observing. I have an Orion 80mm Short Tube refractor (400mm focal length) and it worked like a champ. I’d fabricated a solar filter for it using Baader Planetarium solar filter material. With the eyepieces I brought along, this gave us 10x and 15x views of the sun – plenty large enough to view the transit and sunspots clearly. I was also fairly successful taking some afocal images of the transit by pointing my daughter’s DSLR camera at the telescope eyepiece.

Martin viewing through the 80ST

Carissa and Martin viewing the transit

Afocal photo through the eyepiece

I had a lot of company during the transit. One of my rocketry buddies met me at the house, as did my Dad. We caravanned to my viewing site, which was only about 8 miles north of where I live. My dad departed shortly afterwards, choosing to return a couple hours into the transit. During the afternoon, my daughter and her boyfriend arrived, my long-time friend Martin Marlow showed up, a couple folks from work stopped by, another rocketry buddy and his son stayed with me until the end, and various folks from the neighborhood stopped by to see what was going on. From what I could tell, everyone enjoyed the various views. We took a lot of photos to record this extremely rare event. After all, the next Venus transit viewable from Earth won’t occur until December 2117. And despite the issues with the telescope slewing and the broken solar filter, I consider my efforts to observe and modestly document the 2012 Transit of Venus a complete success.