Yesterday was the last time any of us will see Venus pass in front of the sun. The next scheduled transit is not until 2117, which I’d love to be around for, but let’s face it, I’m not a long-lived tortoise. Though, if I were, I wouldn’t be able to use “fancy” sunglasses or filters and, therefore, would miss that transit anyway (not to mention the long list of other down sides to being a tortoise). In any case, I somehow missed any and all reference to the first Venus transit in our lifetime back in June 2004, and so this was the first and last time I would ever have a chance to see Venus as it made its way across the face of the sun. (You can read yesterday’s post to see why this was something to look forward to).
In order to see this rare event, some family members and I made our way to a mall parking lot which sits at the high point of the county, giving a clear view of the sun all the way to the horizon as it sets, unobstructed by buildings or trees. We brought along dark sun glasses and filtering devices, as well as a “pinhole” projection device made from a make-up mirror covered in aluminum foil with a blank board on which to project the image of the sun.
The day had been cloudy all morning, but from the start weather forecasts were optimistic and showed clearer skies would be here in time for the beginning of the transit around 6pm. At first, we believed the forecasts. Then, as more and more clouds rolled in, the “somewhat-visible-through-the-clouds” sun became completely blocked out. Then rain.
I pulled up NASA’s live broadcast on my phone to see the transit had begun. We sat there in the parking lot and the rain, watching the transit on a cell phone. Not quite what I was hoping for. Eventually, we gave up and went home.
Every ten or fifteen minutes, I would lean back from the couch and peer out the window to see if the clouds had gone. No, completely overcast. I’d continue watching the transit on television. At about 8:00 pm, blue sky was visible in the east. Slowly, it made its way toward the sun and, even if it didn’t make it in time, I was going to try again. Seeing the transit on TV is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is another altogether. We piled back into the car and headed to the mall parking lot.
At 8:45 pm, just minutes before sunset, the clouds around the sun parted and gave a clear shot. There it was. Venus, a little less than halfway through its transit. We could clearly see it silhouetted against the red canvas of the sun. It was a sight to behold. And yet, only three other people were at, what we felt, was the best place around to see it. The vast majority, which we saw driving around below us, busy running errands, driving home for dinner, and walking into the movie theatre, had no clue this was even happening. That a much better show was happening right in front of them! While it made me a little sad, I also felt privileged to have witnessed something so amazing. I can only hope that, come the next transit 105 years from now, those numbers are reversed.
Despite how I anticipated this event, I spent more time planning on how I’d see the transit, and not how I’d capture an image of it to share with others. So, unfortunately, this is all I have…a blurry snapshot from the camera on my phone…that shows my point of view perfectly, but doesn’t focus well enough on the sun to see Venus.
However, you still have hope, as there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of new images of this year’s transit circulating the internet. On top of that, NASA released a really great video on Youtube with a compilation of time-lapsed images from their Solar Dynamics Observatory, which you can watch here: