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As the Transit approaches…

We’re now just a couple of weeks away from the long-awaited “Venus Transit”, during which the planet Venus will move across the face of the Sun in a kind of “mini eclipse”. The last time this happened the event was widely observed roght across the UK because it occurred, very helpfully and conveniently, mid-morning. This time, however, conditions are less than ideal. Actually, it’s as if the Universe sat down and had a think about what it could do to make this transit as hard and frustrating to watch as possible for UK skywatchers, then went ahead and did it…

For UK observers, the transit will already be underway as the Sun rises – in fact, it will be almost over.¬†We’ll see the last 40-50 minutes, if we’re lucky.

Actually, how much a UK observer will see of the transit will be dictated by where they are in the UK (how far north or south), and how high and cluttered their eastern horizon is. The people who will have the best views of this transit are those who can find somewhere high, with a flat and clear eastern horizon. Then they’ll be able to follow the closing act of the transit, between sunrise at 04.50 BST and the departure of Venus from the solar disc about an hour or so later.

Here in Kendal, we would usually gather up at Kendal Castle, or Abbot Hall Park, to observe a big event like this, but that’s no good for this transit. As Kendal is essentially in the bottom of a geographical bowl, with hills or fells on all sides, Kendalians wishing to watch the transit will have to get out of town, get “up” out of the bowl, and find somewhere with a clear, flat, eastern horizon.

But where?

EAS member Simon White has been working VERY hard on this problem, and using Google Earth to calculate lines of sigh, altitudes and angles etc, he’s come up with a few potentialy suitable observing locations. One of this is the top of “The Helm”, a hill that stands on the eastern side of Kendal, looming over the little village of Oxenholme. But the most promising location seems to be an unassuming layby on a road that leads out of Kendal…

Here’s the lay-by…

…and what’s the view like to the east, towards sunrise, towards the transit..?

Good enough for me! That’ll do nicely…

So, that’s where Stella and I will be going to observe the transit from and, weather pemitting, get some nice piccies from. By the time the Sun rises, the transit will look like this…

…and the Sun will *still* be very low in the sky by the time the transit ends, so we’re going to need a big helping of luck and be blessed with a completely cloud-free sunrise if we’re going to get anything. But fingers crossed, and we have to try, right?

I’ll be posting an “Observer’s Guide” to the transit soon, by the way, to tell you how you can observe it safely from wherever you are.

Venus is still visible in the evening sky, looking like a star low in the west after sunset. Earlier in the year it was lantern-bright, a dazzling jewel blazing in the dusk, but now it’s much fainter and harder to see as it sinks into the golden glow of the post-sunset sky. BUT… through a telescope it now looks absolutely STUNNING!

When Venus is at its brightest it’s not actually as impressive as it is when it’s closing in on the Sun. Back in March,through a telescope Venus was a small disc, and then a fat crescent. But now, now Venus is a very thin, scythe-blade sharp crescent, looking like a sliver of silver shining in the eyepiece. I went up to Kendal Castle last night to take some pictures of the planet before it is lost in the twilight, and I took my telescope too, hoping to photograph its very thin crescent.

Here’s what Venus looked like in the sky last night…

But what about through a telescope? Well. My plan was to use my fairly recently-bought T Mount adapter…thing… to take some photographs through my telescope, attaching my camera to the eyepiece tube and using the scope effectively as a big zoom lens, but I’m honestly just about ready to toss the **** thing in the River Kent, because I just can’t get any good pictures with it. I think the problem is my telescope is fairly small, and the DSLR I use is heavy, so connecting the two you get quite an unstable arrangement prone to vibration, and then when the shutter clicks the whole rig judders and shudders like a jelly, and the images are blurred. So, last night I just thought I’d try to go back to basics, and simply point my camera into the eyepiece and try taking photographs that way, see if anything useful came out. It didn’t help that it was very windy up at the Castle, so the telescope was still shaking a bit, but I am very pleased with the results… see for yourself…

Hmmmm… a lot better than I expected! And with a bit of processing, this comes out…

Yes, very happy with that. :-)

I’m at work the next two evenings, and the good weather looks like it might break on Monday, so I’m thinking that these might be the last images I take of Venus before the Transit. So, the next time I turn my camera on Venus, it will be a black dot crossing the blindingly-bright face of the Sun. That’s a heck of a thought, isn’t it? :-)

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2 Responses

  1. Hi, Stu, Thanks for the photo – it’s fun to capture a crescent Venus, isn’t it! Imagine how Galileo felt when he first saw a crescent Venus – “that’s not supposed to look like that” I wonder if he knew at that moment or with Jupiter’s moons how much trouble he was going to get into! My photos are at bkellysky.wordpress.com. We’ll get two hours of transit until sunset here near NYC. – bob

  2. Hi Stu

    I’ve been toying with various combinations of DSLR, T-mount and telescope, with mixed results. DSLR on piggy-back with telephoto lens works well, but also one of the best combinations has been the T-mount onto a threaded Barlow. If you bring your camera tonight we can try some stuff.

    Simon

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