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NASA Chris, smiling Chris 2009
Just in case you've been in media blackout for the past week, a heads-up: Tomorrow (in this hemisphere, Wednesday in the East) is your last chance to watch Venus pass across the surface of the Sun for 105 years. So, even granting the Singularity and its attendant eternal-life-for-all, that's a long time. So be sure to catch it if you can.

What you'll need to see it (any of the following will work), in increasing complexity and cost:
  • Welder's glass or welding helmet. Not magnified, but will allow you to see the black disk that is Venus passing between us and the Sun. It's a true black shadow against a raging inferno of fusion, so it'll be easy to see even at no magnifaction, as opposed to the sunspots, which are only slightly darker than the Sun and thus tough to see without a telescope. The welding helmet is nice because you don't have to hold up the glass for minutes on end.

  • A cheap telescope and eyepiece to cast the image of the Sun onto a piece of white paper or cardboard. I say "cheap" because magnifying the light of the Sun makes things toasty, and you might overheat the optics. Insert WARNING here: NEVER EVER NO WAY let that magnified sunshine come near anyone's eyes. Heck, it's nasty on your SKIN, so BE CAREFUL if you go this route. Image is bright white. TIP: Try sketching the image(s) onto the paper, including Venus and any visible sunspots.

  • Any telescope or binocular with a solar filter. Be sure the filter (which goes over the light-gathering end of the instrument, not over the eyepiece - that old-school crap only melts) has no holes, tears, etc. This will enable you to see the stuff in the articles and photos you've no doubt been bombarded with. Image is orange.

  • If you combine the full-aperture filter on your telescope with an enhancing solar filter for your eyepiece, you can see even more detail. I have an Oxygen-3 "solar continuum" filter that enhances solar-surface activity, and a Hydrogen-alpha filter better for solar-limb activity, but you can try other colored filters to draw out different details.

  • A true solar telescope that uses Hydrogen-alpha coatings and special lenses and eyepieces. Heck, if you have one of those, you don't need to read this. They're fantastic, because H-a filters enable the observer to witness solar flares, prominences, and so forth. Image is red.

  • Or, y'know, just watch it live online, at websites like these. These will probably provide the best images, but you'll miss the social aspects, and there's something ephemerally satisfying about doing astronomy yourself, those faraway photons bouncing around inside your own optics, hitting your own retina, instead of being manufactured by a computer screen. It's real, even if less convenient. This is why I own two telescopes and still feel such great joy whenever I point one at something like the Moon, even though I've viewed it thousands of times over the years.

Regardless of how you choose to observe, you'll have an infinitely easier time of it than early astronomers did. For example, Captain James Cook's trip to Tahiti in 1769 to observe the Venus transit (in order to measure the size of the Solar System) resulted in the death of 40% of his crew - and that was considered a low death rate! You can make the journey to your local astro-club's viewing party with a MUCH lower death rate - if you promise not to text in your car, and if you wear a helmet while traveling on two wheels.


Click the image to see NASA's story about Cook's mission.

Here's what you'll see:


Click the image to see Sky & Telescope's Viewing Guide to the Transit of Venus.

Here's what Cook saw:


Click the image to see NASA's story about Cook's mission.

Oh, and here's what such a viewing party looks like; this shot was taken by Vijay Vasant Barve during last week's solar-eclipse party in the KU Lied Center's parking lot. That's me with my telescope, wearing a solar filter over the aperture and, I think at that time, also an Oxygen-3 filter. You can't see the other 'scopes behind the folks in the foreground.


Click the image to see more of Vijay's photos from the event.

Get out there and experience astro-history - and relive human history!

Chris

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Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
xjenavivex
Jun. 4th, 2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Chris.
mckitterick
Jun. 4th, 2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
Happy to share! so much confusing info out there.
minnehaha
Jun. 4th, 2012 07:32 pm (UTC)
You lost me at "slightly darker than true black."

K.
mckitterick
Jun. 4th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
Heh. Okay, fixed the awkward wording.
dragonet2
Jun. 4th, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
Alas, after
today's adventure and until i get fitted with a leg, i'm not leaving the house until the ramp is built off my deck. (Upshot, Jim figured out an easy way to get me off the deck and into the van using a step ladder, my poor, still undeveloped arm muscles almost could not help get me standing back up on deck after getting home. Let is still to tender to put knee down to help. AND the steps are too brittle to risk trying to wheelchair/walker me up and down.)


will watch online.

New deck is happening this next weekend. WOOT

Edited at 2012-06-04 11:18 pm (UTC)
mckitterick
Jun. 5th, 2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Alas, after
I can imagine. Hooray about getting the new deck! I imagine you'll have a better view of it online, anyway. Enjoy!
siro_gravity
Jun. 4th, 2012 11:21 pm (UTC)
Looks like it's around 6:00 PM...I'll just be getting out of class. I hope we don't have clouds, but highly likely that we will.

I have magic glasses that I got to view the eclipse...so I can use those. Cuz I'd rather have those photons "bouncing around inside my own optics" LOL!!
mckitterick
Jun. 5th, 2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
Good luck! Wish I had magic glasses....
siro_gravity
Jun. 5th, 2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
those "magic glasses" came in a 25-pack. so yeah...I have LOTS. :)
sf_reader
Jun. 7th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that you had clear sky. We had haze in the west until just after sunset.
mckitterick
Jun. 7th, 2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
Too bad! Was hazy here in the last half-hour, but that just provided a nice backdrop for conversation.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )