June 8th, 2004


We saw Venus; did the Venusians see us?

This morning, MAB and I got up at 4 AM so that we could go to the The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to watch the Transit of Venus. We arrived at 4:38 AM (the Center had announced a 5 AM opening time) and there were already about 10-20 people in line. As we waited, more people joined the line, and in a bit we were joined by farwing, who we'd been expecting. At about 4:50, they announced that, unlike past events at which they'd let the whole mob up at once but people would have to wait long periods of time to actually use the telescopes, they'd be letting people up in groups of 30-40 for 15-minute viewing times, by color-coded sticker. MAB, Farwing, and I got blue stickers, for the first group to be let up. We were told that, due to cloudiness, it might take a bit for us to see anything, but that the first group would be allowed to stay on the roof until the sun had risen enough above the clouds to see anything.

A number of people had brought and set up telescopes. At 5:14 AM, I saw the first hints of the sun - bright pink, due to the "junk" in the atmosphere - peeking above the horizon. MAB, Farwing, and I used our mylar-lensed solar observation specs to watch the sun rise. Even without magnification, we could see the black dot of Venus at about the 4:30 position on the sun. During this time, we were photographed by someone from the AP, who later took our names for her article (we'll have to check later in the day, see if we got mentioned).

By 5:34, we observed the sun through one of the small telescopes that had been set up on the roof of the Observatory, and then at 5:44, we went into the dome to observe through the 9" telescope.

We then left the roof of the observatory so that the next group could be brought up to observe. As we left the observatory building, we saw magid and some others standing in the line (we would talk to them all a bit later, after they'd been up to the Observatory). By this time, we'd been told by the Observatory staff that there had been 500 people in line and after that time they'd started turning people away.

In the long, curving line outside the Observatory, MAB and I ran into somehedgehog and swashbucklr and then seborn as well. Soon thereafter, zmook wandered up, as well. We shmoozed up and down the line for a bit seeing who else we might know. After a while, the organizers came out and repeated that they were restricting the number of people who would be allowed in. A number of people left after that announcement, but all of our folk stayed around.

We headed down the hill a bit, where some people were gathered with a pair of binoculars fitted with solar filters. The view at 6:12 AM through the binoculars was remarkably clear. We then stood around and shmoozed some more. We were joined by taxonomist and his lovely wife, and we walked down Garden Street, where someone had - having been turned away from the Observatory line - set up his telescope on the sidewalk. We met a bunch more people there, though the view through the telescope was obscured by clouds so we could not do any more direct observations.

After a while, we walked back to the Observatory, into Phillips Auditorium where they were showing a Webcast from the Canary Islands. At 7:14, via Webcast - at this point from Greece - we saw the 3rd Contact and then at 7:19 we saw the beginning of the 4th Contact. By 7:24, we saw Venus complete its transit across the sun, with 4th Contact.

Much fun was had, and there was a much better turnout than either MAB or I had anticipated. But we were both glad that we'd gotten there for the beginning and were able to experience as much of this event as possible. After all, it happens only twice in 120 years. The next one will be on 6 June 2012, and then the next one thereafter won't be until 2117.
recreational_therapy (lanning)

And another thought...

...though I first mentioned it in magid's journal:

MAB has been talking about the "Transit of Venus" for months. And sometimes I hear it as "transitive Venus." Thus, Venus must take a direct object.

Anyone want to suggest direct objects for Venus to take? Would we miss them if she did?