For residents on the West Coast, viewing the Transit of Venus was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Twice every 105.5 or 120.5 years, Venus passes in front of the Sun for us to see. The last time this happened was 2004, but it wasn’t visible from the West Coast. June 5th was our last chance to witness this rare occurrence until 2117, so there was no second chance for observers.
Members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) were set up in three locations in the Greater Victoria region, as part of their public outreach program. University of Victoria’s Astronomy Department were behind their telescopes on the roof of the Bob Wright Centre and astronomers were on hand at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. Amateur astronomers used solar filters, for telescopes normally used to observe the night sky, to safely allow members of the public to view the Transit of Venus.
Early in the day, the clouds controlled the skies, leaving many to wonder if we would see the Transit of Venus at all. Late in the morning, the wind picked up and blew the clouds away from the western skies in the Greater Victoria region, much to the collective relief of amateur astronomers. The winds gusted high during the event, posing challenges for those trying to photograph the Transit of Venus. Without the winds though, we would have been socked in with clouds, so it was easy to forgive the winds for their bluster on this day.
My Celestron NexStar 8SE Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and I were at Cattle Point, with a number of other members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. When you consider that the Sun is the largest object we see in the sky, it many sound strange that it’s difficult to get your telescope on target, but you have to consider that I can’t look directly at the Sun to get on target. I normally rely on shadows to get as close to the Sun as possible before using a speculative sweep of the telescope, while looking through the eyepiece. The texture of the ground my telescope was set up on made it hard to get a clean shadow, so it was a bit more challenging than usual. It’s the kind of situation where you wish you had a specialized solar sight for your telescope. A fellow RASC member helped out by holding some welding glass over my finderscope, but without being able to see the laser dot against the light of the Sun, it was still a bit of guess work getting on target. I was both happy and relieved to be able to the get the telescope on target to begin tracking the Sun for afternoon. Sometimes it only takes a minute to align to the Sun and sometimes it takes ten, but today there was a lot of wind. I was able to view the first moments of the Transit of Venus, as it formed a teardrop at the edge of the Sun and watched it make its way across the Sun over the next few hours.
A lot of people came out to view the Transit of Venus over the course of the afternoon. A number of them attempted to brave the the high winds to try to take a picture through my telescope eyepiece and some of them got great results. I even found some time to do some photography of my own, using a T-Ring and adapter to attach my DLSR to the back of my telescope. I met several people who had taken the day off from work to witness this celestial event. People were definitely enthusiastic about the opportunity to look through solar filters at the Sun. The clear skies in the West during the Transit of Venus made up for the cloudy skies that accompanied the solar eclipse only a couple weeks earlier. We’ll have other opportunities to view solar eclipses in the years to come, but the Transit of Venus was a once in a lifetime opportunity.