I arrived at Granny’s restaurant, the site of our Venus transit party, later than I had planned Tuesday afternoon. I worked much too late into the night Monday night putting finishing touches on my pre-transit presentation and was giddy anticipating the transit. The manila folder safety viewers still had to be made, but that would have to wait until morning.
Taping pieces of aluminized mylar into the folders and sealing them with glue would be the first order of business on Tuesday morning. Tuesday was beautiful and mild with temps in the mid 70s but the cloud cover was a concern. I arrived at Granny’s around 2pm. Our guests started arriving at 3.
We began with the pinhole viewer workshop. There were shoeboxes of all sizes and fortunately Alan, who was there with his daughter, brought the all important duct tape which was needed to seal light leaks in some of the boxes. We must have made about 20 pinhole viewers. There were shoebox versions, oatmeal boxes and just plain boxes. Granny’s Elise had set aside oatmeal and other boxes in case we needed them. Once the pinhole viewers were complete and “first lighted” we enjoyed Venus transit cupcakes the Granny’s crew prepared. There were chocolate and white cake cupcakes which were topped with yellow frosting accented with “Red Hots” candies depicting Venus.
Next it was time for the “Who wants to be an astronomer” quiz. Isaiah, James, Jared and Hannah were prize winners in the quiz. Granny Carol was our scorekeeper and Hunter, Kathryn and the other kids joined the fun.
15 year old Austin who works part time at the restaurant was on assignment as my assistant. He helped with the construction of the pinhole viewers and learned how to “drive” the telescopes by the time we finished.
About 5:30 we walked over to the observing field where the scopes were set up. I was in “low tech” mode using a 50 mm “Galileoscope” with a cardboard shade screen and cardboard shadow box for projection. The other scope was a 10 inch Orion Dobsonian with Kendrick full aperature white light solar filter.
Since I was hosting a crowd of about 50 people there wasn’t much time for “serious” observing but I had resolved that I was going to try to time first and second contact or at least when Venus’ disc ingressed the solar disc. I logged the planet’s penetration onto the Sun at 21:06:05 UT and second contact at 21:21:27. Prior to second contact I was amazed to see an arc of refracted sunlight over Venus’ western limb while it was still off the Sun’s disc. Venus’ atmosphere! We were not able to detect Venus’ shadow with the pinhole viewers. With “eclipse glasses” and manila folder/aluminized mylar viewers we were able to discern Venus’ shadow on the solar disc. We did manage to do some imaging with a hand held camera on the Galileoscope projection viewer. I put the Galileoscope together over the weekend and configured it with a 20mm Meade Plossl eyepiece. The scope made a very good account of itself. Image above left: Just before sunset I captured this image with the Galileoscope projection
I managed to quiet myself for a few moments to take in the amazing sight we were experiencing. Clouds were intermittent and obscured our view as old Sol lingered at the horizon around 00:25 UT Wednesday. I took a break about 20 minutes later. Quite a few guests expressed an interest in observing Mars, Saturn, the Moon and an ISS pass which concluded our evening at 02:05 UT.
After packing up the gear I got back to the house a little after 11pm local time. The transit would continue for another hour and fifteen minutes. Exhausted, I plopped in my favorite chair, clicked on the TV and switched to NASA TV. I was pleased to see they were carrying the Sun-Earth transit feed from Mauna Kea. As I sat there enjoying the waning moments of the transit I felt a profound connection with Horrocks, Copernicus, Brahe, Halley, Kepler, Galileo, Franklin, Mason and Dixon. I reflected on Le Gentil, Cook and Green who sailed on year long journeys around the world two, three or four centuries ago to observe the celestial spectacle and David Peck Todd who imaged the 1882 transit from the building site at Lick observatory. I was able to watch part of the 2012 transit from the comfort of my living room.
I am very grateful to Carol, Elise, Margey, Jane, Suzie, Austin and everyone at Granny’s. The experience of this transit was made all the more special by our guests. The kids: Hunter, Hannah, Isaiah, James, Jared, Kathryn and others whose names escape me now. Among the “big kids”: Jennifer, Katie, Jessica, Jan, Alan, Frank, Ernie, Ray, David, Terry, and John. There were others but I’m tired and still a little overwhelmed by it all. I was also great to see my long time friends Tim and Alan who made the transit all the more special by stopping by. Finally a shout out to my assistant, Austin, who wants to be a meteorologist. Austin was a great help and quickly learned how to aim the scopes.
I’m already thinking about the next Mercury transit which is only 3 years, 11 months away!
Next: Venus marches east of the Sun for a morning dance with Jupiter