After all the waiting, all
the reading, all the lectures, and all the planning it's hard to
believe that June 8th has come and gone. I'm just glad all the
effort wasn't for nothing. I successfully observed the Transit of
Venus! My Venus Transit adventure began on Saturday, June 5 when
Rich Mather came to pick me up in his Honda Odyssey
After loading all my equipment and making sure my “Transit of
Bust” sign was securely attached to the rear window, we
“set sail” for
the east coast at 10:47 am EDT. With the wind on our backs, we
sailed through Canada, New York, and most of Massachusetts in about 12
hours. After docking the Odyssey
for the night at a motel in Springfield we resumed our voyage.
We reached our destination, Portland, Maine on Sunday, June 6th at 2:45
pm EDT. Our first task was to search for a library or some other
spot with internet access to check the weather. It was very
cloudy in Portland that day, but I wasn't concerned. I had been
closely monitoring the weather for at least 3 weeks before the transit.
My first choice was St. John's, Newfoundland, but all the forecasts
predicted cloudy skies on June 8th. Anywhere between Portland and
Atlantic City, New Jersey was looking ideal. Maine was the
obvious choice because the further north and east you went the more of
the transit you'd get to see.
We sure did pick an odd time to arrive in Portland. The
Festival” was being held that day, so many of the city's interior
streets were blocked off and filled with thousands of people.
Rich and I decided to leave the Odyssey
and find our way around town by foot. We decided to ask the owner
of a small furniture store for directions and she provided us with a
map and lots of good information.
It turned out that the library was closed (it was a Sunday), but there
was an internet café nearby. Thanks to the map, we quickly
tracked it down and logged onto the internet. The weather
forecasts were still predicting clear to partly cloudy skies for
Portland on Tuesday morning.
After enjoying the Old Port Festival for a while, we decided to find a
place to stay; making sure to enjoy the sites along the way. We
found a pretty nice motel in a small town called Scarborough and
settled in for the night.
I made sure to bring along my laptop and some local phone numbers from
my ISP allowed me to get back on the internet to keep an eye on the
weather. Rich called Bill Nigg on his cell phone and it turned
out he was just south of us in York Beach.
We got an early start on Monday morning and our task for the day was to
scout out observing locations. Slowly, we made our way down the
coast of Maine. The first two spots that caught my eye were Two
Lights and Crescent Beach State Parks. Both were inaccessible at
night and didn't open their gates until well after the transit was
over. There was a good spot next to Two Lights, so we put that on
the list. We also checked out York Beach and found another spot
right on the ocean.
The weather that Monday morning was still looking gloomy, so Rich tried
calling Bill several times throughout the day without success. My
weather radio said that “tenacious clouds” were hanging
over our area,
but that northern New Hampshire was enjoying sunshine. It also
started reporting early morning fog, so we knew we'd better start
looking for higher elevations We decided to head to Portsmouth,
NH where they were indeed in the sun.
Time was running out, so Rich decided to call Bill again from the
Portsmouth Library. Finally, he answered his phone and he found a
good, high spot near Cape Neddick, Maine. So, Rich and I headed
north back into Maine again and met up with Bill and his wife Mary on
the top of Mount Agamenticus (Latitude: 43° 13' 25" N,
Longitude: 70° 41' 29" W).
After getting a quick bite to eat in York Beach, we headed back up to
Mount A and I set up my equipment. The fog started rolling in off
the Atlantic Ocean just as I finished. I was hoping to polar
align and collimate my scope, but the fog became too thick. So,
everyone tried to get some sleep. Bill and Mary were comfy in
their camper and Rich lied down in the back of his van. I just
crashed in the front passengers seat knowing that I wouldn't get a wink
So, I just sat awake the entire night waiting and thinking. I
thought about Abbé Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche, who
unable to sleep the night before the 1761 transit. He sat up the
entire night “worrying about every distant cloud or smoke curl
fire.” He had less to worry about though. The fog
getting thicker and thicker and before too long I was unable to even
see outside the windows of the Odyssey
Around 4:00 am I heard Bill knocking at the window telling us to wake
up. I told him I wasn't asleep, but he didn't believe me! I
glanced out the window and actually saw a few stars in the sky.
When I got out of the van I spotted the Waning Gibbous Moon with a nice
halo around it. The air was still pretty foggy, but it was slowly
improving. Sunrise for our location was at 5:04:57 am EDT.
So, we decided to have breakfast while we waited for the sun to
rise. The fog from the Atlantic finally cleared out around 30
minutes before sunrise, but then more fog rolled in from the
north! It never managed to get very dense though because a warm
breeze came in from the opposite direction and cleared everything
away. It was truly astonishing!
As the eastern sky grew brighter it seemed to explode in a brilliant
orange glow. You could then see the fog draped below us as far as
the eye could see. As the Sun slowly rose, the gray fog was
replaced by a magnificent orange carpet of clouds. It was one of
the most beautiful sites I think I've ever seen.
It was finally safe enough to remove all the covers and caps off my
equipment. When I removed the dust cap off the front of my
Schmidt-Cassegrain I discovered some moisture on the corrector
plate. The only way to get it off was to wait for the sun to get
high enough and let it evaporate naturally. Next time I’ll
a hair dryer! While I waited I searched for Venus with a pair of
eclipse glasses. I was amazed at how easy it was to spot.
Once my corrector plate cleared up I put my Baader solar filter on the
10” and then attached my Coronado SolarMax 40 Hydrogen Alpha
my Tele Vue Pronto 70mm f/6.8 refractor. I suppose I can consider
myself one of the first people (of thousands) to see the Transit of
Venus in H-alpha. I didn't see any major prominences that day,
but Venus appeared blacker through the H-alpha filter than it did in
the white light filter.
After everyone got a peak at the transit in H-alpha I attached my
Philips ToUcam to the Pronto and my 35mm SLR camera to the SCT. I
used my Lumicon Giant Easy Guider (with built in focal reducer) to
photograph the Sun at f/6.3. Mainly, the light meter in the
camera helped me with the proper exposure, but I made sure to bracket
just in case.
Imaging with the webcam turned out to be problematic for reasons I'm
still confused about. There was an abnormal amount of static on
the screen of my laptop. I've had several months of experience
imaging the Sun, Moon, and planets and never saw this before. My
best guess to the source of the interference were the multiple cell
phone towers on top of Mount A, but maybe I’ll never know for
I played animations of the transit multiple times using the Venus
Transit freeware program from the Dutch Occultation Association, but
that could never substitute witnessing one of astronomy's rarest
spectacles first hand. Its unfortunate Venus transits are so
rare, because it was so much fun to observe. After taking all my
pictures I wanted to put the eyepieces back on and watch the final
minutes of the transit firsthand. Contact III occurred precisely
at 7:05:41 am EDT and Contact occurred at 7:25:38 am EDT; although I
was able to observe the transit for another 3 minutes or so in H-alpha.
The Transit of Venus was now over – not to
return until June 5, 2012. I'm already making my plans! I
slowly packed up all my gear and then took
a quick tour of Mount A and then Rich and I
began the long trip home. While crossing
through Canada we watched the sunset,
which I found both ironic (since we watched the sun rise) and fitting,
was a perfect end to a historic day.
|Listen to a radio interview about the
Transit of Venus that Andy Robins conducted with me, KAS Member Bill
Nigg, and Kalamazoo Planetarium coordinator Eric Schreur that aired on WMUK on June 7, 2004. [venus_transit.wav - 30.8 MB]