Personal Diary of the transit of Venus, 8 June 2004
For another record of this event at the same observing site see The Abrams Planetarium Transit of Venus Page.
This morning I woke up around 2:00am. I didn't want to go back to sleep. I was excited about the coming transit, something I've anticipated for over 50 years. I use to look at the astronomical calendar and wonder if I would be able to observe the transit, something so far into the future.
I got out of bed and powered on my computer. I was sure there would be a number of live web broadcasts of the Transit. I found several sites. Some showed clouds drifting across the face of the sun, but the transit was very clear. I finally found an excellent site, after much searching, where a number of views were offered. The H-alpha view of the sun was particularly interesting, since it showed some detail on the surface of the sun. No sunspots were visible, so the plain light view was featureless, except for the disk of Venus. The web site was http://www.venusvoordezon.nl/index_en.htm (since then it has disappeared). The site in The Netherlands appeared to be without any clouds. This wetting my appitite, but I was naturally anxious to view it myself.
The Capitol City Astronomy Club had arranged to meet on the roof of a parking garage next to Adler Planetarium in East Lansing on the Michigan State University campus. I arrived there about 5:45 and found a number of people already there, setting up their various instruments for observing. Since first arising at 2:00am I had been checking the sky. Each check showed a clear sky, much to my relief. With sunrise at approximately 6:00am I immediately set up my 2-inch refractor so I would be ready the moment the sun appeared above the horizon. Though the sky was clear, there was obviously some haze near the horizon. How would the sun appear through the lower atmosphere? We only had about one hour to observe before the transit ended. Would the turbulence in the atmosphere from the heating effects of the sun make observing difficult? Fortunately, any fears in this direction were soon dispelled. It was a magnificent morning. The disk of Venus appeared larger than I had expected. Even small solar images projected onto white card stock clearly showed Venus.
The first attempts to view the sun as it cleared the horizon were great disappointments. Other people shared my difficulty. The sun showed dimly at first, bright red due to the atmosphere. It was too dim to see through the solar filters I and others were using. I had my aluminized mylar full aperture filter over the objective lens, but I could not see the sun at all. I removed the filter and let the light shining throught the eyepiece shine on my hand. The red smear of light on my hand indicated the sun was in the field of view. After replacing the filter, I still couldn't visually detect the sun's image, though. Gradually, at the sun rose further from the horizon, the brightness increased and the sun's image appeared dimly through the eyepiece. Great! Even the dim image showed the presence of Venus. What an astounding sight! Observing the sun with my erecting prism Venus appeared near the 4 o'clock position and showed a crisp disk. I could detect no softness at the edge that might have been caused by a Venerian atmosphere. Though the image wasn't completely steady, due to the atmospheric conditions, the disk of Venus appeared sharp and quite easy to see visually. Observing without a telescope, using only the filter, Venus was detectible, knowing where to look.
We all took turns looking through the various scopes. I got my first look through a Questar. There were two of them present, one with a full solar filter and one with a filter of about 30mm diameter. Very nice. There were two clever solar observing devices with folded optics (the "Sunspotter"). It is a nice design giving a pleasing projected image of the sun. I saw a 3 inch equatorial mounted Unitron with the special Unitron solar projection device. I was most impressed by an 80mm Celestron computer controlled telescope. Two tiny sunspots were pointed out to me on this telescope. This enabled me to find these two spots near the center of the solar disk using my 2 inch refractor.
The image of Venus slowing crept towards the edge of the solar disk till it met the edge of the sun. Perhaps my image size was too small to see it, but I was unable to see the black drop effect. My preferred eyepiece was a Konig 16.3mm, giving 24X. I also used a University Optics 30mm (13X) and a 9mm Unitron (44X). As Venus neared the edge of the sun I switched to 44X to watch for the black drop effect.
There was a good group of people. Some had heard an announcement on the campus NPR station and joined us on the roof. Many were members of the club. All seemed to have a great time. At one point I had to shorten my tripod legs considerably so two young boys could reach the eyepiece, but I couldn't allow them to miss this wonderful opportunity. Hopefully, they'll remember this the way I've remembered seeing the transit of Mercury in the 1950's.
Slowly Venus slipped by the limb of the sun, reducing to a notch in the edge of the sun and slowing slipping totally out of sight. The moment had passed, and the gathered crowd spontaneously broke out in a round of applause to show our appreciation for this unique show by nature.
I took several digital photos using a Nikon 995 camera, hand holding it up to the eyepiece. I saw others attempting the same thing. Following are some of the pictures I took of this event.
-- J. Franklin Campbell
Send comments/corrections to: Contact Webmaster