2012 Venus Transit: S&T Reports

Clouds, veering cabbies, and old optics didn’t deter committed spectators of this last-chance astronomical event.

Many of us had to throw up our hands yesterday when it came to viewing the transit of Venus. Opaque skies here in the Boston area disappointed skygazers, even those of us stubborn enough to regularly walk outside with eclipse glasses just in case of a cloud break.

But others had more luck — although not without a fair amount of flurry. S&T editors Monica Young, Sean Walker, Dennis di Cicco, Robert Naeye, and Kelly Beatty were placed around the country (and outside it) to watch Venus pass one “final” time in front of the Sun. Reports are still coming in, so check back later for updates, but here’s a taste of the fun.

Venus transit
Clouds parted in New Hampshire just long enough for S&T editor Sean Walker to catch the transit. This image is a mosaic of 9 frames recorded at roughly 7:40 EDT with a DMK21AU618 video camera, through a 40-mm Coronado PST at f/20. The Sun was approximately 5.6 degrees above the horizon at the time.
S&T: Sean Walker
An Unexpected Break
by Sean Walker

Things didn’t start well in Manchester, New Hampshire. My 12-year-old daughter and I set up in Derry Field Park, but we only snatched brief views of the transit ingress between clouds. We soon gave up and headed home.

But after dinner I poked my head back outside, and holy cow! the sky was clear. I grabbed my equipment and ran back up the hill. The clouds parted for a good half hour or so, giving me enough time to capture this mosaic of the Sun during the final transit of the 21st century.

Speeding Toward Transit in California
by Monica Young

I missed the transit’s ingress while training to make a better website. At 4:30 p.m. (PDT), I hustled out of class and hailed a cab to the California Academy of Sciences. I knew they were planning on showing the transit from the building’s “living roof,” a mockup of grassy hills covered in native California plants. Maybe the cab driver sensed my agitation, because he drove like a crazy man, squeezing past several yellow lights.

There were still people on top of the Academy’s roof when I arrived, but it was 4:55 p.m. and the building was already closing for the day. I pulled out my last pair of eclipse glasses and joined the group of people on the front steps, some of them peeking through their own shades. I had never used solar shades before, and I was surprised at how small the Sun is in the sky: its glare makes it seem so much bigger. Unfortunately, my eyesight isn’t very good, and while I thought I could see where Venus ought to be, I couldn’t really make out the dark disk.

Disappointed, I headed back to my hotel. I hopped on the BART light-rail train and was enjoying the scenery — the little shops with art deco design flairs, the towering trees and desert-like plants so different from Boston’s flora — when we passed a park. In the middle huddled a cluster of telescopes.

Wait, telescopes!

The train just kept on going. I jumped from my seat and leaped off at the next stop. A small crowd had gathered, taking turns looking through the scopes. The wind was blowing something fierce, and my first view through binoculars only got me a shaky glimpse of the transit. My view through the other two telescopes was better. Venus hovered against the Sun’s glowing disk, its pitch-black disk seemingly frozen in place, surrounded by several dark-grey sunspots that dotted the Sun’s southern hemisphere.

When I went to thank the telescope’s owner, lo and behold he was none other than Tim Benedictus, creator of the Sky Safari app and collaborator on Sky & Telescope’s SkyWeek app, whom I had only met through teleconferences. Talk about fortuitous.

After taking a view through each telescope, I headed home again. I was smiling as I boarded the light-rail train again, having finally seen an event that I knew I would never see again.

Venus at the beach
Waves weren't the only thing you can catch from a Hawaiian beach this week: transit watchers gathered to see Venus emerge from the Sun's disk.
S&T: Robert Naeye
Success in Hawaii
by Robert Naeye

The transit from here was spectacular. We had excellent views of 1st and 2nd contact from the Keck Visitors' Center at 9,300 feet on Mauna Kea, and the skies stayed clear for several hours. Many dozens of scopes of all types and sizes clustered on the site.

We knew the Sun would dive below a mountain ridge for 3rd and 4th contact, so most of our tour group went back down the volcano to our hotel at Waikoloa. But we didn’t miss the end: from the beach there we had excellent views of 3rd and 4th contact, with the Sun just a few degrees above the ocean. The seeing was bad at the very end since the Sun was so low.

One thing we all noticed was that the transit lasted longer in H-alpha scopes (like my Coronado Personal Solar Telescope) than it did in scopes using white-light filters, starting about 1-2 minutes earlier and ending 1-2 minutes later. That's because the H-alpha folks weren’t looking at the solar “surface” (the photosphere) but at the chromosphere, which is one level higher in the solar atmosphere.

I also noticed some sunburns where the sunscreen hadn't quite reached, but they were worth it.

"Fort Venus" on Tahiti
A recreation of the "fort" erected by Capt. James Cook and the crew of Endeavour on what is now Pointé Venus on the north coast of Tahiti. The pyramid-shaped tent with the flagpole served as the observatory.
J. Kelly Beatty
In the Footsteps of Captain Cook
by J. Kelly Beatty

Having settled for a just quick peek of the 2004 transit (darn those clouds!), I decided to go all out for the 2012 event. So I headed for Tahiti and, specifically, Pointé Venus, where 243 years ago Capt. James Cook and his crew viewed the transit of 1769.

The weather had been rainy and threatening up through the night before the transit. So the blue skies of Tuesday morning were a welcome sight. Our small group headed by bus to the black-sand spit that juts into Matavai Bay on the island's north shore. Today nothing remains of Cook's original encampment, but local organizers spent three months reconstructing the fortified observing compound that Cook and his crew erected after arriving two months ahead of time.

This time around the only fortification needed was a stout clothesline. Several thousand residents showed up to enjoy a day of spectacle — speeches by dignitaries (of course), dance troupes, historic reenactments, and lots of local color.

Viewing the transit from Tahiti
A Tahitian girl takes a peek at the last-in-her-lifetime transit of Venus.
J. Kelly Beatty
More than 500 schoolchildren roamed the grounds in bunches, and my little telescope (a 4½-inch Orion StarBlast tube on an iOptron Cube mount) remained very, very popular throughout the day. I must have shown Venus's stark black silhouette on the Sun to upward of 1,000 people yesterday.

The skies were mostly clear, though a cloud band moved in just in late afternoon to spoil the expected view of the Sun and its temporary tâche noire (a handy phrase, I soon learned). We reveled in Venus's slow, stately entry onto the Sun. Its large, razor-sharp circle contrasted dramatically with the smaller, softer-edged sunspots scattered across the solar disk.

Usually I discourage parents from hoisting their 1-, 2-, and 3-year-olds up to the eyepiece for a quick peek. But I couldn't say "no" this time. Those kids will likely never remember seeing this rare astronomical event by eye — but it's a sure bet that few, if any of them will get another chance to do so.

Reader Reports
Walter Dalitsch III

More than thirty years after I worked overtime on the farm all summer to buy my first "real" telescope as a young teenager, that Celestron 8 — dirty, scuffed, and undoubtedly out of alignment after multiple military moves — still keeps the excited kid inside me alive. I shot very simply with a cheap Mylar filter and my wife's eight-year-old Nikon D100 DSLR, then colored the Sun yellow with generic computer photo software. These images are why astronomy still excites me. The only thing of astronomical value older than my telescope is my first issue of S&T, given to me by a teacher in 1979.

series of Venus transit
Walter Dalitsch III caught this series of images with his tried-and-true Celestron 8 and a DSLR camera from Chula Vista, California.
Walter Dalitsch III

Bill Nix
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina shook the windows of the First United Methodist Church of Poplarville, Mississippi, and chipped out a tiny piece of the stained-glass window that sits under the eave high above the pulpit area. The chip created a pinhole camera which projects an image of the Sun on the walls more than 50 feet away. As the Sun approached solar maximum, I was hoping to see sunspots in this projected image, but the resolution of the image was not sharp enough. It wasn’t until the morning of June 5th that it occurred to me that the church’s pinhole camera might be good enough to view the Venus transit. It was — the planet appeared as a small dot on the solar disk. A group of us watched the transit until the Sun started to set in the trees behind the church.

Be sure to check out our online photo gallery of reader submissions. Please submit your own best shots, and keep sending in your reports (you can post them as comments below).

You can also watch Venus approaching the Sun through the corona on NASA's YouTube channel.

20 thoughts on “2012 Venus Transit: S&T Reports

  1. Michael Boschat

    Well, Halifax,Nova Scotia,Canada was overcast and plain lousy
    weather. Later that night I decided to use the internet (would have rather used my eyes!) and monitored the Solar Dynamic Observatory satellite images to watch the transit from 7pm ADT to 2am ADT!! ughhh… but it was worth it to refresh the screen and see Venus disk coming on…I noted the
    planets atmosphere as a faint arc just near 2nd contact and
    4th contact. That was super to see, also the black drop was noted.

    In all at least I saw it – though it was via computer…

    Mike

  2. nakedgun

    I shared about 30 minutes of the ’04 transit with a few co-workers after it was already underway, and was determined to catch 1st and 2nd contact this time from my backyard. A few puffy clouds came and went all day, which was OK but five minutes before the start a cloud formed and parked itself right in my way! Sometimes parting, sometimes completely blocking, I did manage to catch 1st and 2nd contact with bright enough images to detect the Venusian atmosphere backlighted, creating an unexpected 3D effect. Wow!

    A half-dozen of my neighbors stopped by to view the event before sundown.

  3. Gary

    I purchased several pairs of eclipse sunglasses and passed them out to family & friends in the midwest (Cincinnati to Detroit). Set up my Meade EXT 125 with solar filter and camera. The only transit I got was running back and forth from the house to the yard to see if the weather cleared. No luck – completely cloudy. But at least I got to spend time with my two granddaughters in Kentucky while on the phone with the grand kids in Michigan. That was worth it and they all have memories & a memento. BTW, I had planned this since the transit of 2004 which most of us observed. Thanks to everybody for the livestreams and photos.

  4. Rick

    Myself and four others were observing the Venus transit when we saw a satellite transit the sun as well, itself transiting Venus. The satellite had two sets of solar panels, and was appox 1 arc-minute wide. Had a very distinctive H shape. The time was appox 7:54 cdt, location 43.185 north, 88.753 west. As the satellite ended the transit I was able to make out the solar panels off the edge of the Sun for a brief second (they were now bright against a dark background,through the solar filter of course) Any help figuring out what we saw?

  5. James Boyd

    Viewed the transit from the 60′ sandy cliffs overlooking the legendary Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas. I ran the gamut of experiences today; blowing sand, thunderstorms, lightning, rumbling thunder & rain, mad dash back home for forgotten equipment, total dark-as-night cloud cover for a while, Border Patrol agents checking me out (I let them photograph the transit with their cell phone cameras through my Celestron 8), a herd of cows across the Rio Grande in Tamaulipas, Mexico mooed loudly as they headed for shelter from the nearby storms, amd MILLIONS of butterflies! Not to mention OPPRESSIVE 100 degree heat and sweat pouring into my eyes before & after the cloud cover! But I took many photos and visually saw sunlight refracting through Venus’ atmosphere between first and second contact (!) with a Celestron 8, and also photographed the transit in progress at sunset! A very memorable day, indeed, with over 2 hours of clear skies during the transit!

  6. Rod Pommier

    My wife, SuEllen, and I flew from (cloudy, rainy)Portland, Oregon to the summit of Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii for 2 reasons: the entire transit would be visible from Maui and, at 10,000 feet, we would likely be above any clouds. I brought my C8, tripod, solar filters, and DSLR to photograph the transit in white light and H-alpha. We drove to the summit June 3 and got written permission from the National Park Rangers to set up in a perfect spot, normally reserved for tour bus parking. On June 5, most of Maui was cloudy and rainy, but we had crystal clear skies for the entire transit. However, there was a price to pay, as the wind gusts were brutal. I hung my tripod bag under the tripod and filled it with lava rocks (again with permission)to prevent the C8 from being blown over! We timed contacts and were delighted to see phenomena such as the black drop at 2nd and 3rd contacts and the halo around Venus due to sunlight refracting through its atmosphere. Photographing in gusting winds is far from ideal for image quality, but the images look good. I am eager to process them and post them on the Reader’s Photo Gallery. I made some new Hawiian astronomy friends too. It was a fantastic astronomy expedition and event we will remember for the rest of our lives.

  7. Joseph Larsen

    Here near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the weather was near-perfect Tuesday, with almost no cloud cover and moments of very excellent atmospheric "seeing." I noticed Venus taking a small "bite" out of the sun about a minute or two after the start of ingress. About halfway through ingress, I’m quite certain I was able to glimpse Venus’ atmosphere as an extremely thin, but distinct arc on the dark side of the planet, and certainly beheld the entire disk of Venus before it was fully immersed by the sun. I was actually using the same optics as Mr. Beatty – a 4 and 1/2 inch Orion StarBlast (EQ), and I was pleasantly surprised to have glimpsed this effect. Towards the end of ingress, I accidentally bumped my scope out of view of the sun (!) but recovered just in time to witness what I believe was the black drop effect; I saw a waist of darkness connecting Venus to the sun’s limb, but it was quite fleeting. Even being fully aware of the relative dimensions of the Sun and Venus, I was unprepared for how large the planed appeared, and its deep, inky black color was very distinct and even kind of eery. I showed the transit to several family members, friends, and passers by which was quite rewarding. From my locale, there was a nice dramatic ending to the transit with some passing clouds adding a memorable three-dimensional aspect.

  8. Haldun I. Menali

    My wife Gamze and I traveled to Southern California to watch the last transit of Venus of the 21st century. We viewed the transit with the members of the Local Group Astronomy Club (http://www.lgscv.org/) in Santa Clarita, CA. Many thanks for their hospitality! The skies were perfectly clear, the location was at the very end of a shopping mall parking lot (http://www.meetup.com/LAAstronomy/events/66566582/), we watched the transit for about 5 hours, from the start until the sunset, and our short trip was a complete success. After seeing the 2004 transit from Istanbul Turkey, we bagged both events of this century and are happy as kids in a candy store!

    Please see a few of my initial pictures posted on my club’s website (Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston):
    http://www.atmob.org/gallery/showgallery.php?id=150

    Site coordinates: N 34o 24′ 57" / W 118o 30′ 31"
    Centre Pointe Development in the Canyon Country area of Santa Clarita, CA
    Transit start at 3:06 pm PDT
    Sunset at 7:52 pm PDT (behind a mountain range)

    PS: I believe I also saw the satellite Rick observed (his post above). I was taking pictures through my Orion ST80 and while looking through the Canon angle finder C, and I suspected seeing "something" else transiting the Sun other than Venus at about the same time Rick saw it. I’ll do some digging and share my findings when I figure it out.

  9. Eric Holcomb

    After much driving from Central Oregon, also excellent transit viewing from another southern California site … Ubehebe Crater at Death Valley National Park, 4 1/2 hours from just before 3:07 PM until 7:37 PM, when Venus set behind the Last Chance Range, followed two minutes later by the remaining visible Sun. No clouds, just a few wind gusts to contend with. I used an old C-8 telescope (with a newer solar filter), and shared the view with a few other park visitors, including couples from England and France. Observed the atmosphere of Venus before 2nd contact and then the black drop. Photos later …

  10. Karsten Bomholt

    Second successful venus transit from Denmark! In 2004 the weather was perfect and we could see the entire event from first to last contact. This year we could only see the last two hours of the transit. An hour before sunrise the sky was covered by clouds, but miraculously the clouds disappeared and there was a full view to the northeast horizon where the Sun and Venus rose together as predicted. The next two hours the sky remained cloudless, and we could all say say goodbye to the black Venus and see you again in 105 ½ years.

  11. Ian Frazer

    The weather forecast the day before was not hopeful for here in Victoria, BC.

    But …

    The afternoon cleared up into bright sunshine!

    I saw the last one back in 2004, showed my young girls "the dot, and explained they would see it again.

    This time, both of them looked at my 2m long pinhole camera (Thank you courier company – but a bust, not enough resolution), watched through the binoculars like last time, and then the fun part:
    - watched through my 450mm lens (properly sun-filtered of course) over the next 3-4 hours of the event.

    I took some awesome pictures which will last a couple of generations, up on the wall.

  12. Bill Wilson

    Six members of the Memphis Astronomical Society set up scopes at Shelby Farms Park, the largest urban park in the United States (4500 acres). One, Freddy Diaz, also set up to show the transit on cosmoquest.org. The crowd stayed at about 100 people (not the same people) throughout the time the transit was visible (first contact to sunset at 2010 Central Daylight Time). During ingress the arc of the Venusian atmosphere was clearly visible in my 3.5-inch/90mm Questar at 80x. Skies were near-perfect the whole time. Somewhat surprisingly, I got more "Wow!" comments from people viewing through a #14 welder’s glass than through the telescope.

  13. Michael-BormanMike Borman

    The Evansville Astronomical Society set up scopes on the bank of the Ohio River by the Evansville Museum. Skies were mostly clear with an occasional fair weather cloud floating by. Hundreds of people enjoyed the view with us. I set up two mounts – one for visual observing, and one for photography. Here is a link to some pictures I took of the transit, and some "people pictures":

    http://www.mborman.org/s060512.htm

    The last few pictures show me (with the hat) and my photography setup. I am especially fond of the last picture showing the tiny dot of Venus on the setting Sun.

  14. James Little

    I showed the Transit of Venus to over a hundred fifth grade students at our outdoor science camp. Students were viewing the transit directly with eclipse glasses and through my 4 inch Maksutov cassegrain telescope. In addition to Venus we saw eight large sunspots. The wind was blowing 25 mph shaking the scope but it was probably a blessing since without it we probably would have marine layer since our school is only 5 miles from the Calif. coast.

  15. Jeff Rabb

    I had thought that my plans to watch Venus’s entry onto the Sun’s disk would be thwarted due to the last minute need to have to drive my motorbike to the repair shop. Lady Luck was looking over me as I’m forced to drive over the Oakland Hills overlooking San Francisco Bay to get to the shop. On the way down, at one of the scenic overlooks, I noticed people with telescopes out. On a lark, I pulled over and asked if I could have a peek. I was rewarded with a gorgeous view of Venus already 3/4 of the way onto the Sun’s disk. Within minutes we managed to just barely make out out the slightest indication of the black drop effect and then 2nd contact was complete! It was beautiful. A shout out to John who was generous enough to let peek through his scope from time to time while this was happening.
    Upon getting home, I pulled out a welder’s glass that I had bought for a mere $4.00 and enjoyed the show from my front yard on and off until the sun dipped below my horizon. Not nearly as awe inspiring as through the telescope, but still very exciting.
    My only downer for this event was that my order for solar filters for my telescope failed to arrive from Astro-Physics. I only found out afterwards that was due to a computer glitch not forwarding my internet order once my confirmation had been sent to me. So was not prepared to take pictures of this, as I always had planned to do.

  16. Joseph

    Excellent weather graced the North Kohala Coast on Big Island Hawaii. We positioned ourselves at the Energy Lab grounds near the Kona airport. Gentle trades were welcomed. 1st Contact began shortly after noon with the Sun at the Zenith. Ideal atmospheric stability made the exterior and interior ingress a sight to behold. Razor sharp images via my 4" Astro Physics refractor elicited much excitement from those nearby. I literally was speechless for 45 minutes. Later, we traveled further north to Waikaloa for an enjoyable sunset/Venus egress. This was a memorable day in every respect.

  17. NS

    I live in Hawaii and had expected to be in the islands for the transit, but no such luck. A rescheduled vacation had me near Seattle. Clouds so dense you couldn’t even tell where the sun was, much less see anything of it. Oh well…I had a nice vacation anyway.

  18. Ken Shumway

    In spite of dodging scattered cumulus clouds, the beginning of the tansit was visible from northern Louisiana. I almost missed the start of ingress as I had procrastinated setting up my Meade ETX-90 equpped with a Thousand Oaks Solar Film Filter until almost the last minute. I had to catch his event as I’ve missed several other once-in-a-lifetime events over the past 40 years. I’m glad I did.

  19. Barry Scholles

    It had been dismally cloudy all day in Strasburg, Ohio. After dinner I took a seat on the deck with my Bausch and Lomb 7 X 50 binoculars and the solar filter from my 12" Orion Dobsonian. Clouds, clouds and still more clouds! About 7:45 however, the clouds parted for just a few seconds and I got a glimpse of the transit between 1 and 2 o’clock on the sun’s face. Those few seconds paid off with a very distinct small black circle. Well worth the wait! I’m 67 years old and probably won’t be around for the next transit. Ha, ha. The song by the Police kept running through my head, "There’s a little black spot on the sun today………"

  20. David Hustedt

    I got photos taken from start to half way till clouds took over and just before sunset in southern plain states area. I am willing to share photos I got to ones that didn’t get to see much or not at all. I had some clouds come in during last half hour so some clouds appear on my pics. You can
    e-mail me about sending photos at davidhustedt@ymail.com and put Venus Transit in subject heading so I know what it’s about when I get a address come in I don’t know.

COMMENT