Thursday, June 7, 2012

Venus...In Passing

Tuesday's Transit of Venus was a once in a lifetime event for those who missed the last one on June 8, 2004. The next time Venus passes between the Earth and Sun isn't for another 105-1/2 years. Because of our relative orbits about the Sun, the celestial mechanics insure paired transits eight years apart, separated by extrahuman gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years. Next one comes in 2117, followed by the second in 2125.

So I wasn't surprised when I got a whiney email from BajaBabe lamenting the cloud cover hanging over her corner of the Emerald Empire Tuesday morning...I whined back at her about my skies and the Leonid Meteor Showers every November, that I've actually seen once since moving to the mountains in 1980...that one year that I could observe, was a weak year for the Leonids, coupled with a full moon...I saw a couple of meteorites, but nothing like the Leonids in full fury when there can be thousands of meteorites an hour. Look up the 1833 Meteor Storm, when estimated rates were in the hundred thousands per hour!

I made sure that I was ready for the 3:05PM start of the event, and kept my calendar clear.

When the appointed hour neared, I was dumbfounded to see towering cumulus clouds scudding overhead heading south!

Even without a telescope, I still wanted to view the moment that Venus first "touched" the Sun's such luck, these were juicy, dense clouds, and I didn't get a clear look until the trailing edge of Venus had long since passed onto the face of the Sun.

Undeterred, I watched online images from a giant telescope atop Hawaii's Mauna Loa.

Finally some gaps in the clouds gave me a clear shot at the spectacle, but then I was just confused...the web images from Hawaii showed Venus at the 11 o'clock position on the Sun's face, but from my viewpoint  in the Inland Valley, Venus was at 2 o'clock, and with the eclipse glasses and no magnification, it took my mind a while to resolve the tableaux.

Finally my eyes and brain were firing on all eight cylinders, and the experience was filed in my brain's database. This felt good...I instantly relaxed, and went back to what I was doing...waiting for the Giants vs Padres game to begin. I wandered back outside every few minutes to gaze up at the show. The Sun felt good on my face after the too-cool Monday cold system passage.

NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center put together a great time lapse video of the transit that runs about three minutes. The whole transit from start to finish lasted 6:41, but only 4:21 was visible before sunset here.

I've gotta get a real solar telescope!


  1. Actually, Eastern Oregon is about 600 miles East of the Emerald's a high desert with Juniper, Cottonwood and Locust. The upper elevations have the predominantly Ponderosa Pine, Western Larch, Doug Fir forest.

    Photos of 60 years ago show rolling hills. Today, the Juniper is encroaching and the landscape that was once rolling hills covered in native grasses and shrubs is going through a process of "desertification". The Juniper's range is expanding, gulping water as they go.

    Similar to the Pinyon Pine of Eastern California.

    Overgrazing by sheep and cattle herds and drought prepared the way.

    Rain again for the next few days.

  2. So, if you're not in the Emerald Empire, are you the Great Basin?